Estate Planning If You Have an Estranged Child

When your children are young, you envision continuing to be a part of their life as they grow up – spending holidays together, visiting one another, and cultivating special relationships with their children (your grandchildren). The reality is not always that idyllic. Whether due to disagreements, substance abuse, a controlling spouse, or many other potential reasons, sometimes grown children estrange themselves from their families. If this has happened to you, in addition to the emotional pain you are going through, there is also the logistical problem of how to address the estranged child in your Estate Plan. Should you give them an equal share as the rest of your children? Should you disinherit them? Should you hold off on creating Estate Planning documents until you are on better terms?

It might be tempting to avoid the whole situation by postponing creating your Estate Plan, but this would be a mistake. If you lack an Estate Plan at the time of your death, your Estate will likely go into the Probate process, which is time-consuming and can be very costly for your Heirs. Additionally, the State will distribute your assets based on Florida’s laws of intestacy, which may be very different from how you would like to distribute them. For example, under the laws of intestacy, your estranged child would be entitled to an equal share. It’s best to develop an Estate Plan sooner rather than later and modify it in the future if needed.

When creating the plan, you will need to decide if you want to:

  • Divide your assets equally among all your children (including the estranged child)
  • Give the estranged child less than other heirs
  • Disinherit the estranged child. If you disinherit them entirely, do you want to disinherit their children (your grandchildren) as well?

If you choose to disinherit the child completely, it’s important to acknowledge this in your Estate Planning documents rather than just not mentioning the child.  It is almost never advisable to leave the estranged child One Dollar or other token amount.  By leaving the child One Dollar, you are giving that child standing as a beneficiary.  Beneficiaries are entitled to information about the estate and/or trust.  These steps can help minimize the risk that the estranged child could successfully contest the Estate Plan and gain access to your assets. Your Estate Plan should also specify if the estranged child’s children should receive any assets or if you are disinheriting them as well.

An option instead of a full disinheritance is leaving the estranged child some assets, but less than you are leaving your other Heirs. This approach can make it less likely that the child will contest the Estate Plan than if you completely disinherit them. Similar to disinheriting the child, though, you may want to specifically reference that you are doing it intentionally to make it more difficult to contest.

Based on the specifics of why your child has estranged themselves from you, your attorney will craft a customized Estate Plan to meet the needs of your family. Huth, Pratt, and Milhauser have created Estate Planning documents for thousands of families in South Florida. Contact us to learn how we can help you.

2500 North Military Trail, Suite 460
Boca Raton, Florida   33431
Phone: 561-392-1800

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