Is It Possible to Accidentally Disinherit a Relative?

Estate planning is a process in which clients work with attorneys, insurance advisors, accountants, financial planners, and other professionals to develop a plan for their assets and how they are owned and managed. A properly executed estate plan helps ease the burden on the family at the time of death.

Even if an individual thinks his or her estate plan is set in stone, mistakes happen, leaving some to wonder if it is possible to accidentally disinherit a relative.

Disinheritance happens when a testator (the person who creates the estate plan) opts to exclude an individual from receiving any assets after his or her death. This can happen intentionally or by accident for several different reasons.

How to accidently disinherit a relative

Neglecting to update an estate plan

Forgetting to update an estate plan after a major life change is a common reason for accidentally disinheriting a relative. As an example, a couple with three children bought a vacation home in Florida. The family created memories by traveling to the home annually. The parents, who were joint owners of the property, promised to pass the Florida home to the children.

In an unfortunate turn of events, the husband/father dies. Ownership of the property goes to the mom, who eventually remarries. She adds her new husband to the title of the Florida property. Mom dies years later, and the vacation property is passed onto the new husband. The three children, who were promised the property years earlier, were stunned to learn their stepfather is the legal owner of the property.

Joint tenancy

In general, both personal property (bank accounts, certificates of deposit, etc.) and real property (homes, land, etc.) can be held by two or more people via joint tenancy. What this means is that the ownership interest of one joint tenant automatically passes to the other surviving joint tenant upon death.

For example, consider 10 acres of land owned by a husband and wife as joint tenants. When the wife passes away, the 10 acres of land are now owned by the husband with no need for probate court. While joint tenancy has many advantages, children could be disinherited through this means of planning.

DIY estate planning

Do-It-Yourself (DIY) estate planning is an additional cause of accidentally disinheriting a relative. The use of online forms, handwritten wills, and other DIY methods creates the risk that an individual’s intended beneficiaries will not receive assets after the testator’s death. Estate planning documents have specific requirements to be valid in the state of Michigan, and without the help of an experienced estate planner, it is possible to make mistakes that will lead to accidentally disinheriting a loved one.

Likewise, mistakes happen when an individual attempts to update his or her estate plan without an attorney’s assistance. Changes to legal documents must meet certain requirements under Michigan law to be valid.

Help is available

The above examples are only a few ways in which an individual could be accidentally disinherited. Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney is the best way to ensure that a testator’s final wishes are properly executed. To speak with an estate planning attorney, please call 586-726-1000 or visit our website.