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Please don’t give somebody a token $1 in your estate plan

by ROBERT J. GREEN/Kootenai Law Group
| May 12, 2024 1:00 AM

Other than the myths that only the wealthy need estate planning, and that a having a will avoids probate court, the most common myth I have to dispel clients of is the one-dollar disinheritance myth. For many different reasons, some people desire to exclude an heir from their estate. Often this is a child or other close family member, and the reasons for doing so are diverse. The right way to exclude someone from receiving an inheritance from your estate is NOT to leave that person one-dollar. 

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.