No family is perfect. As much as we might wish that all of our family members get along with each other, conflict and estrangement happen. Sometimes, it is a parent and adult child who have a falling out that lasts for years, or possibly the rest of the parent’s life.

This can be a reason not to leave one of your children an equal share of your estate in your will or trust. As the testator of your estate and trustor of your trust, you have the right to decide who will receive your assets after you pass away. You can exclude one of your children entirely if you want.

Minimizing the chances of a will challenge in New Jersey

However, you should know that if you do, chances are good that the excluded child will challenge the validity of your will or trust. You must plan carefully to show that this is your wish and that you were not coerced, tricked or unduly pressured into the disinheritance. Here are some ideas for accomplishing this:

  • Use clear language. Your will should clearly state whom you are disinheriting, and that you have reasons for doing so. Note that you probably don’t want to get into those reasons in the will. If you do, you could open the door for your child to claim that they have changed the things you did not like, and therefore the disinheritance portion of the will should be voided.
  • Consider a small gift instead. Instead of disinheriting a child completely, you might want to leave them a modest gift. This can make it clear that you did not forget to include them in your estate plan, while also making it clear that you did not intend to leave them a share equal to their siblings.
  • Document your decision. Besides stating your intentions in your estate planning documents, outside documentation can help make the case for enforcing its terms after you are gone. Something a simple as a journal entry or letter explaining that you are considering disinheriting one or more of your children and why can be valuable evidence if there is a will challenge in probate court. It would show that you were of sound mind and made the disinheritance of your own free will.

The guidance of an experienced estate planning lawyer can make a big difference when you are preparing to make sensitive decisions that could lead to family strife and a legal battle, if not handled properly.