Should I Leave My Child a Buck?
It is irresponsible enough that absent-minded parents occasionally manage to leave their children behind when they leave the park or get off the bus. Even so, it seems far more incomprehensible that parents could possibly forget to include one or more of their kids when they are in the process of drafting their wills and allocating their estates.
However, believe it or not, this happens often. Conscientious parents might draft their wills after the birth of a child or when the rest of their family is still relatively young.
But sometimes, another child will be born later on, and the parents will simply forget to update their wills after the fact. While it is not always a fatal omission or an intentional act, there are unlucky consequences that can arise as a result.
That said, many states will consider the child who was born later to be a beneficiary. This is because states will often revert to relevant intestacy rules, which are the default guidelines that govern situations where parents die without a will in the first place.
So, the courts have ways by which they can rectify an inadvertent omission or a clerical mistake. This should remedy the problem unless the wills left behind by parents have specifically excluded the omitted child on purpose.
How to leave a token bequest
Disinherited heirs may initially be shocked to find out that their parents left them either a very small amount of money or even nothing at all. Children may regard a situation such as this to be insulting, leading them to question the relationship they had with their deceased parent or guardian.
It makes sense to interpret such a situation as adding salt to the wound. Many estate lawyers suggest that testators leave at least a nominal amount of their estate to an heir whom they wish to cut off rather than simply failing to mention them by name.
At a bare minimum, this alternative offers some sort of closure to the child being excluded or omitted. That said, the bequest does not need to be in the form of money.
People often leave sentimental heirlooms with very little financial value as a gesture of affection. If you wish to bequeath your old, cracked teapot instead of allocating any of your money to your child, you could do just that while accomplishing the goal of including everyone in your will.
In all fairness, William Shakespeare left his wife his second-best bed in his will, and while beds were indeed much more valuable 400 years ago than they are today, the point still stands. You may also want to write a memo to yourself and state your decision to only leave a trivial amount to your child.
The document can serve to reinforce that your choice was not impulsive nor was it conceived as a result of external pressure. That said, be careful with your wording.
Try not to attempt to come across as being overly emotional or critical when drafting your justifications. If your will is ever challenged in the future, any circumstances you originally cited might no longer be true.
For example, if you describe your good-for-nothing son and state that he has never done a day of honest work in his life, he might be holding down a well-paid job when it comes time to challenge the contents of your will.
Less is more
While certain people will encourage testators to leave something small for all potential heirs, other experts will discourage people from even offering the tiniest of bequests. Those with this mindset would contend that it is more cost effective to merely acknowledge the relationship and leave it at that.
The real goal is to at least mention the disinherited person in a brief fashion so that you can address their existence while eliminating the possibility of them believing they were accidentally overlooked. Moreover, those who contest wills might latch onto situations, such as a one-dollar bequest, deeming it a cruel provocation that is out of character in regard to the testator.
For instance, the disinherited individual might use the minimal bequest as evidence of mental incapacity on the part of the testator. The less you give the disinherited individuals to work with, the more likely your requests will be upheld.
Another danger of leaving even a single dollar is that any amount of money will automatically make the child a beneficiary. Adding a beneficiary to the list can affect the protracted probate process.
Once you have officially transformed someone into a beneficiary of your estate, the executor will be obliged to distribute accounting documents, pleadings and administrative records to them as they must do for all beneficiaries. This costs money, and even the most mundane administrative tasks can take away from the estate’s assets while also delaying probate resolutions.
If you ultimately decide against a bequest, you can achieve similar results with the help of straightforward language. Your attorney can draft words to the effect that after thoughtful and careful consideration, you have decided not to include Junior.
There are a number of ways to phrase your intentions or state your preferences. For instance, you could include a clause such as “I am intentionally disinheriting Junior as well as Junior’s descendants for reasons I deem to be sufficient.”
It is always recommended you consult with a lawyer as you work to prepare your will. Seeking expert advice is imperative, especially if you are contemplating the idea of making a token bequest.