How to Write Children Out of a Will

By Christine Funk, J.D.

How to Write Children Out of a Will

By Christine Funk, J.D.

There could be several reasons why a parent wants to have their child written out of their inheritance, or there could be one big reason that is unforgivable. Whatever the cause, if a parent wants to make sure a specific child does not inherit upon the parent's death, they must specifically and proactively detail their intention within their will.

Man typing on laptop and looking up at wife sitting next to him and looking at document

If you've made the decision to write a child out of your will, these are the steps to follow:

1. Make certain you have a will.

If you don't have a will or trust, your children will inherit according to the laws of your state. This is true regardless of whether your intention was to cut off one or more of the children. It is true even if you have repeatedly told anyone who will listen that you have no intention of leaving any of your property to one or more of your children. Consequently, the first step in cutting your child or children out of your inheritance is to write a will.

Different states have different laws about what is necessary for this important legal document. So be sure to check the specific requirements of your state.

2. Use clear language to describe your intention to disinherit.

Most states allow a parent to disinherit a child for any reason they choose. However, some states warn against accidental disinheritance. As such, if you intend to disinherit a child, you must clearly state that. In your will, identify each of your children by their full names and dates of birth. Make sure your will clearly indicates these people are, indeed, your children.

Next, indicate in your will that you leave them nothing. Some parents feel compelled to offer an explanation. If you offer an explanation that might result in anger and hurt feelings, it could, in turn, trigger a suit contesting the document.

3. Check the rules.

A word of caution: check the requirements of your state. Some states require parents to leave each child at least a token amount for the will to be valid. This can be a small amount, as little as $1.

4. Consider alternatives.

A suit contesting the document delays the distribution of your property to your beneficiaries. One way to perhaps disincentivize a disinherited child from bringing a suit is to offer an enticement. Rather than leaving them nothing at all, consider providing a small inheritance with a caveat they can only inherit if they don't contest the will. However, this provision, referred to as a terrorem clause, or a no contest clause, sometimes has limited effects. Where a person has probable cause to object to the will, even if they are not ultimately successful in challenging it, the court does not enforce the terrorem clause.

Review the requirements of your state and use clear language in your will if you want to leave nothing to one or more of your children. Some states prevent you from leaving nothing to your children, requiring you to address each one of your offspring and leave them at least $1 each. Although you might feel compelled to provide a reason for your decisions, give the language you use considerable thought, as hurt feelings can ultimately delay proceedings.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.