State Inheritance Laws
Each state has its own complex laws regarding what constitutes a valid will and which of your blood relatives will inherit your property if you die without one. If you make a valid will, you can choose to disinherit any of your blood relations, including your children. Only Louisiana does not allow parents to disinherit a child. Although your spouse is not considered a blood relative, most states provide legal protections to spouses whereby you cannot disinherit your spouse so long as you are legally married.
Typically, if you die without leaving a will, known as dying intestate, the probate court will give your property to your surviving spouse, children or grandchildren, a process known as intestate succession. If you die without a spouse, children or grandchildren, your property may go to your parents or siblings. You may wish to consult your state's laws to determine the exact blood relative intestate succession rights in your state.
Dying without a will means blood relatives whom you dislike may inherit a substantial amount of your property, while your live-in companion, other blood relatives you are fond of and friends may receive nothing. In addition, if you die without a will, a probate court must appoint an administrator to review your estate and locate your heirs, a process that can create delays and expenses that drain your estate's cash.
If you are drafting or updating your will, be sure that it conforms to your state's requirements for a valid will. States typically require your will to be signed and dated, contain no confusing language and have no unusual bequests that suggest your mind is impaired. Otherwise, your blood relatives may be able to successfully challenge your will.
Blood Relatives Challenge
In one well-known example of blood relatives challenging a will, two grandchildren of Leona Helmsley, a deceased wealthy businesswoman, successfully attacked her will, which disinherited them while leaving millions of dollars to her dog. A judge decided that Helmsley was mentally unfit while drafting the will. Therefore, the court ordered that each disinherited grandchild receive $6 million and the dog's share of Helmsley's estate reduced to $2 million.