Can You Successfully Disinherit a Family Member?

November 4, 2023
Bradley Campbell
Older couple discussing how to disinherit a family member
If you want to exclude someone from the will, is it best to leave them a dollar so they can’t challenge being excluded? Can you put in a provision that if they challenge the will, they lose everything?
Bradley Campbell Tyler and Mineola TX Lawyer
Bradley Campbell
Bradley Campbell has over 35 years of experience. A trusted advisor and counselor, Attorney Campbell will help you find solutions for your case by focusing on personal attention, communication, and professionalism. If you need an attorney for probate, business law, or real estate with the experience and understanding to serve you with the individualized care and attention that your case deserves. Attorney Campbell provides consultations throughout the week at our convenient locations in Tyler, TX and Mineola, TX.

Understanding Disinheritance: What Does It Mean to Disinherit Someone?

Disinheritance refers to the act of intentionally excluding a family member or heir from receiving an inheritance. This decision is often made for personal reasons and is legally executed through estate planning documents. When you decide to disinherit someone, it's crucial to understand the legal implications and ensure your estate plan clearly reflects your wishes.

The critical thing to remember is you may leave or not leave your estate or portions of your estate to whoever you want to. Don’t let traditions or conventions of what you “should” do impact how you distribute your estate to your loved ones.

You don’t have to leave your estate to anyone. Suppose you leave everything in your estate to one person and exclude someone else who might normally be included. In that case, it’s your choice, according to the article “Estate Planning: Disinheriting a loved one” from

Reasons for Disinheriting a Family Member: Why Make This Choice?

There are various reasons why someone may choose to disinherit a family member. These can range from estrangement, family conflict, or simply a personal decision to allocate assets differently. It's important to understand that while the reasons are personal, they should be approached with legal prudence provided from a knowledgeable estate planning attorney like Bradley S. Campbell to ensure the decision is respected after your passing.

The One Dollar Bequest: Myth vs. Reality

Contrary to popular belief, the "one dollar bequest" is not a common or necessary provision in disinheriting a family member. This myth suggests leaving a nominal amount to prevent a challenge, but in reality, it's more effective to clearly state the exclusion in your estate documents.

What Types of Language Should You Use to Clearly Disinherit Someone?

The language used to leave your assets to your intended heirs in your will or estate plan is important. Instead of stating reasons for disinheriting, which could be contested, it's advisable to simply acknowledge the individual and state that no provision has been made for them.

Depending upon the state, some estate planning attorneys prefer to acknowledge the disinherited individual and recognize their exclusion was the intention of the testator. Some use language like this: “I specifically acknowledge that I have made no provision for my daughter Jane Smith and have done so knowingly, intentionally and for reasons known only to me.” This approach leaves less room for legal challenges.

What Wording about Those Excluded from an Inheritance Should You Avoid?

Language that is too specific about a particular disinherited individual may create room for challenge in a courtroom. What language could cause a problem? Try this: “I make no bequest for my daughter Jane Smith because she drinks too much.” This opens the door for Jane to prove she doesn’t drink any more than the average person, and if Dad had only known this, he wouldn’t have excluded her from his estate plan.

What about Using a No-Challenge Clause in a Will to Disinherit a Family Member?

A no-challenge, or in terrorem, clause can be included in a will to deter challenges. This clause threatens to penalize anyone who contests the will, often by excluding them from any inheritance. The clause can add an additional layer of protection for people who are concerned about family members who might react to being disinherited. However, the effectiveness and legality of this clause vary by state.

Updating Your Estate Plan: Keeping Your Disinheritance Decision Current

Life circumstances and relationships change over time, which may impact your decision to disinherit. Regularly updating your estate plan ensures that your current wishes are accurately reflected and legally enforceable. This is especially important if you decide to disinherit a family member after initially including them in your estate plan.

Working with an Experienced Tyler Estate Planning Law Firm Ensures Your Wishes Are Honored

If you are concerned about ensuring that your wishes are carried out after you pass away, book a consultation with our Tyler estate planning law firm. When your will goes through probate, it becomes a public document. Therefore, anyone who asks can read it. Your estate planning attorney may suggest using trusts, which can afford greater privacy as they never become part of the public record.

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