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The art and science to disinheriting someone

by ROBERT J. GREEN/Kootenai Law Group
| January 14, 2024 1:00 AM

There are many different reasons you may want or need to disinherit someone from your estate plan. There are far fewer correct ways to actually do so. Let’s consider what works and what should be avoided. 

First and foremost, the right way to exclude someone from receiving an inheritance from your estate is NOT to leave that person one-dollar. Leaving someone a token inheritance amount with the belief that doing so will prevent that person from challenging your estate plan is a myth as persistent as it is ill-advised. 

This myth started many years ago, and to my embarrassment for my profession, I regularly see wills and trusts that were drafted by licensed attorneys that take this approach (though most often when I see this it has been done by someone who tried to write their own estate planning documents without an attorney’s assistance). The theory behind this approach is that by leaving an heir a dollar, that heir cannot later argue to a judge that their parent or family member simply forgot to include them in the will or trust and doing so was an unintended oversight which the judge should correct. 

However, a well-written will or trust prepared by a competent attorney will always avoid the possibility of successfully arguing that an heir was forgotten. When I draft wills or trusts for clients who wish to disinherit someone, I identify that person clearly, I identify the relationship of that person to my client, and I specify in unambiguous terms that the person is to receive no inheritance from the estate. 

Leaving a token one-dollar inheritance to someone you wish to exclude from your estate actually can cause a lot of unnecessary problems. By leaving the token gift, you have made that person a beneficiary of the will or trust estate and have thereby bestowed upon him or her a whole lot of rights that he or she would not likely have otherwise had. The token one dollar now means that person can require notice of proceedings, accountings of finances of the probate or trust estate, and has other rights unique to estate beneficiaries. In short, that person could potentially make a lot of trouble for the person you’ve left in charge of your estate. 

So, if you have the one-dollar provision in your current documents, or if you are considering this approach, I strongly encourage you to speak with a competent estate planning attorney. Don’t know where to start? We can help. 

My law firm is currently offering free in-person, telephonic, or electronic consultations concerning creating or reviewing estate planning documents. 

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Robert J. Green is an Elder Law, Trust, Estate, Probate, & Guardianship Attorney and the owner of Kootenai Law Group, PLLC in Coeur d’Alene. If you have questions about estate planning, probates, wills, trusts, powers of attorney, guardianships, Medicaid planning, or VA Benefit planning, contact Robert at 208-765-6555, Robert@KootenaiLaw.com, or visit www.KootenaiLaw.com

This has been presented as general information and not as legal advice. Do not engage in legal decision-making without the advice of a competent attorney after discussion of your specific circumstances.