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Can you disinherit your family members as a punishment?

On Behalf of | May 31, 2022 | Estate Planning |

Your estate gives you an opportunity to leave something meaningful for the people you love. For most testators planning their estates, the main goal will be leaving something valuable to the people closest to them. The emotional and financial value of your belongings will play a role in how you divide them among family members.

However, what you might want to leave for your closest family members might be a lesson rather than some of your property. If someone who would typically inherit from your estate has treated you poorly or abandoned their relationship with you, can you disinherit them as a way to teach them a lesson about the importance of maintaining relationships?

People’s rights differ based on your planning

If you die without a will, then New Jersey law determines what happens with all of your property. Your spouse and children will have primary rights, and then other family members also have inheritance rights.

If you have a will or estate plan, then your wishes dictate what happens unless someone challenges your will or other documents. Most estate challenges have to do with undue influence or lack of capacity by the person creating the documents, but people can bring challenges based on illegal estate planning terms as well.

You can disinherit some people, but not everyone

Technically, spouses have a statutory right to inherit a certain portion of someone’s estate. If you try to disinherit your spouse, even if you leave very explicit directions about your choice to do so, they can challenge your estate in probate court for their fair share of inheritance.

Children and grandchildren typically cannot bring such challenges, so if you disinherit them and explicitly explain your intentions of doing so in your estate documents, then your wishes will likely hold up even if someone tries to challenge them.

For those who want to do something unusual with their estate plan, understanding the rules that govern inheritance rights in New Jersey is crucial. Learning the law is often an important part of estate planning for those with specific legacy wishes.