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Downplaying the drama of disinheritance

When you are creating an estate plan, you have the freedom and opportunity to make your own decisions regarding what you want to happen to your assets. However, you will want to keep in mind how your decisions could affect your loved ones, especially if you make decisions that may seem mean, confusing or unfair. 

For instance, if you leave one of your children out of your will, you could be leaving your loved ones to fight a contentious battle that strains or severs family ties. Disinheriting a child (or other family member) can be one of the more disputable elements of an estate plan, but there are ways you can minimize the drama that could unfold.

  1. Be clear. If you intend to disinherit a child, say so in your will. This is what the late comedian Jerry Lewis did when he stated in his will that he was intentionally excluding his six biological sons as beneficiaries. You could also offer an explanation why, whether it is because he or she has a financial advantage over your other kids or because the relationship between you two was non-existent. Failure to be clear with your wishes could leave room for ugly fights and potentially a successful contest of your will. 
  2. Prioritize privacy in your estate plan. If you are an affluent or public figure, then there could be increased interest in the details of your estate already. Disinheritance can make them even more enticing for people to read about. To protect your privacy and the privacy of your loved ones, consider taking steps to avoid probate and keep your financial affairs private.
  3. Avoid the element of surprise. Leaving a big reveal or surprise in your will, like a disinheritance, can spark a dramatic response whether you want it to or not. If you want to minimize the commotion of a decision like disinheritance, talk to your loved ones ahead of time about terms and wishes they may not expect.

Disinheriting someone is not an insignificant decision, but it doesn't have to be overly emotional and theatrical, either. With some preparation, perspective and legal guidance, you can alleviate the dramatic impact disinheritance can have on your loved ones.

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