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Disinheriting an heir: What you should know

Human relationships can be endlessly complicated -- especially among families. As unpleasant as it may be, you may have some very good reasons to disinherit a potential heir.

But, can you do it? And, if so, how? Here are a few things you need to know about disinheriting someone:

Some people can't be disinherited

You cannot disinherit your surviving spouse or your minor children. Just like you would have a legal responsibility to divide your assets in a divorce, you have a legal responsibility to provide for your spouse upon your death. Similarly, just as you have a legal obligation to support your minor children in life, your estate carries that obligation forward after you die. Each state has laws that provide for a minimum inheritance for a surviving spouse and minor children -- so long as there is money in your estate.

Others are not entitled to any protection

Your adult children, on the other hand, are not entitled to support from your estate -- neither are grandchildren, parents, grandparents, siblings or other extended relatives. Any of those people who might otherwise stand to inherit from you can be excluded from your will -- so long as you do so carefully.

Make your wishes known carefully

Omitting a child's or another presumed heir's name from your will is not the best way to disinherit that person. There's a strong possibility that a judge might decide that you simply forgot to name that person when your will was made -- especially if that person decides to challenge the estate. A simple statement that makes it clear that you are acting deliberately to disinherit that person is enough to suffice.

Designate your chosen heir instead

If you disinherit your only known heirs, make sure that you do tell the court where you'd like your assets to go instead. Having a clearly designated heir in place can help remove any doubt about your wishes.

Just as every family is unique, so is every will and estate plan. Find out more about the available options for your estate before you make your plans.

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