For whatever reason, your family may not be part of your estate plan. Whether you do not have any close or identifiable family members, have chosen not to include your family in any decision-making roles, or do not want to include them as beneficiaries, knowing your options is important. Today we are going to look at what you can do if you do not want your family to be included in your estate plan.
When Your Family is Not Part of Your Estate Plan: Inheritances
If you do not want to leave inheritances to your family, you do not have to. With limited exceptions (such as restrictions against disinheriting minor children) you are not under a legal obligation to leave anything to your family member. However, the ability to effectively “disinherit” people depends upon you making a decision to do so.
Here is how disinheritance works. Some family members, such as your children or parents, are automatically entitled to inherit your property after you die. This default inheritance right, known as intestate succession, is automatic, but not exclusive. If you do not want to leave an inheritance to your family, you must use a last will and testament or trust to make sure your decision is honored. Should you fail to use the proper tools, or fail to use them correctly, a court will not honor your wishes.
When Your Family is Not Part of Your Estate Plan: Spouses
There’s a significant difference between general family members and spouses when it comes to estate planning. Choosing not to leave an inheritance to a family member is one thing, but choosing not to leave anything to a spouse is another. Put simply, you cannot unilaterally disinherit your spouse. Even if you fail to include your spouse in your estate plan, if you are married when you die, your spouse can choose to receive part of your estate as an inheritance. While your spouse can agree not to receive a spousal inheritance, such as through a prenuptial agreement, you cannot disinherit your spouse on your own.
When Your Family is Not Part of Your Estate Plan: Decisions
Even if you choose to leave your estate to your family, you need not choose family members as representatives. For example, if you create a health care or financial power of attorney, you are not required to name your spouse, sibling, or any other relative as your agent. Should you become incapacitated without leaving an estate plan that names your choice of representative, however, there is a good chance a court will designate a relative as your representative.
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