What You Should Know About Disinheriting Someone in California

While it’s never the preferred outcome, in some cases, you may find it necessary to disinherit someone when drafting your estate plan. However, there are many rumors and inaccurate beliefs surrounding the disinheritance process. Let’s discuss what “disinheriting” someone actually means, how it works, and what to consider during the process. 

What Is Disinheritance?

Disinheritance is a legal process that alters the expected distribution of assets upon death, removing specific individuals from receiving an inheritance. It involves creating or modifying existing wills or trusts to reflect your wishes. It is not just about asset distribution; it’s about ensuring that your wishes are legally recognized and carried out. 

Disinheritance is only necessary in certain situations. You may need to disinherit someone if:

  • They would normally have the right to inherit your property under California’s intestate laws
  • You have included them in a prior will or estate plan

If either of these is the case, you may need to disinherit them officially. However, if they are not normally entitled to inherit from you and you haven’t named them in your will or other documents, then you likely do not need to do anything – they never had the right to your property. Still, professional legal counsel is often necessary to ensure that all legal requirements are met and your intentions are clearly articulated.

Understanding Inheritance Rights

If a person dies without a will (intestate), California’s laws of inheritance rights come into play. They may also impact an estate if there is a will, but none of the named beneficiaries remain alive. 

These laws dictate who should receive the decedent’s assets, and they typically favor spouses and children. Other people who may have the right of inheritance include parents, siblings, grandchildren, grandparents, and even aunts, uncles, cousins, and nieces and nephews. 

This can be problematic if you do not want someone who may have intestate inheritance rights to receive your assets after you pass. However, with a valid will, you can specifically disinherit someone. Just note that it’s important to explicitly state this intention in the will to avoid any ambiguity that might lead to legal challenges in probate court.

Steps to Disinheriting Someone in California

Disinheriting someone in California, particularly a family member such as a child or spouse, involves several legal considerations. Here are some steps your attorney may recommend you take to disinherit someone while minimizing legal complications successfully:

  • Explicitly State Your Intentions: In your will or trust, include a clear and explicit statement indicating your intention to disinherit the specific individual. Simply not mentioning them might not be sufficient, as it could be interpreted as an oversight. A clear statement helps to avoid any ambiguity. However, you do not need to leave someone one dollar – that is a common myth. A clear and straightforward statement should be enough to avoid most legal challenges.
  • Clearly Designate Beneficiaries: Clear beneficiary designations are essential in ensuring that assets are distributed according to your wishes. This includes not just the will but also other documents like life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and trusts. These designations should be regularly reviewed and updated, especially after major life events.
  • Implement No Contest Clauses: A “no contest clause” is a legal provision that can be included in a will or trust in California. This clause discourages beneficiaries from contesting the will, as they risk losing their inheritance if they challenge the document and lose. While this can be a strategic tool in preventing legal battles, it’s not foolproof and should be used judiciously.

Preparing an Accurate Estate Plan in California 

Disinheriting someone in California involves a complex interplay of legal procedures, family dynamics, and emotional considerations. It requires careful planning, clear communication, and, often, professional guidance. While it’s a legally viable option, the implications extend beyond just the legal realm, affecting personal relationships and family structures. As such, it’s a decision that should be made with thorough consideration and professional advice.

Consulting with experienced legal counsel is essential in the process of disinheriting someone. An attorney specializing in estate law can provide valuable guidance on the legal requirements and help draft documents that accurately reflect your wishes. They can also advise on potential legal challenges and the best ways to mitigate them.At The Dayton Law Firm P.C., we can help. Schedule your consultation with our professional estate planning attorneys to discuss your needs and learn how we can assist you with developing a comprehensive plan to achieve your goals for your estate.