Sometimes an estate goal is to effectively omit someone from the parade of beneficiaries. This type of disinheritance must be done properly to minimize the risk of litigation and maximize distributions to intended beneficiaries.

In 2010, California law added hoops to make disinheritance more difficult to withstand a contest. This law does require specific language in a bequest. California law presumes that direct heirs (children and spouses) will be provided for in one’s estate planning.  That said, California, unlike Napoleonic countries does not require this type of gift.

In California, one cannot simply omit them from their Will and/or Trust. If such direct heirs are omitted, it may be determined that they were “forgotten” by the person making the Will or Trust and are thus given a share of the estate automatically by law.

To validly restrict or disinherit someone from the estate plan it is best to specifically state that intention. For example, statements like “I have elected to forego any provisions for John Smith in the disposition of my estate” prove the point. It is even more critical that such language be used when one intends to disinherit a direct heir. Forgotten heirs have rights and a claim to part of the estate.

Lastly, stating specifically why the person is disinherited is also helpful. Something to the effect that the heir has already been provided for, they already have sufficient wealth of their own, or they are estranged and even if reconciled their life choices preclude inheriting.

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