and children each have expectations of one another.
  Unfortunately, life does not always meet
expectations and may lead to parents and child(ren) becoming estranged from each
  Estrangement often leads to the
unhappy parent disinheriting their estranged child(ren).
  Why do these unfortunate situations come to
  What usually happens?  What alternatives are there?

have seen many different scenarios, but some are more common than others.  The most common grievances parents have with their
estranged child’s behavior relate to the following:  (1) drug or alcohol addiction; (2) failure to
become self-sufficient and using the parent’s resources; (3) problems related the
child’s spouse; (4) illegal lifestyles; (5) verbal and/or physical abuse; and (6)
cessation of communications which denies parents any relationship with

have seen how these problems greatly upset and trouble the parents to the point
where they decide that they should disinherit their child. What happens then?

the parent dies, any children who are not disinherited will have to deal with
the grievances and trouble created by the disinherited child, who may feel
cheated and bitter towards the other children who inherit what would have been
his/her share of the estate.  Depending
on whether or not these included children wish to preserve any relationship
with the excluded child, they may chose to share some portion of what they
receive to make peace.

the disinherited child may bring a will or trust court action to invalidate the
parent’s estate plan, with the hope of receiving a intestate share equal to the
other child(ren)’s share(s).  The court
action will upset the other child(ren), particularly any child who is in charge
of administering the estate.  It will
also diminish how much is left to distribute.

the parents and the child(ren) reconcile, which may take place at the end of
life.  For example, a client’s daughter ended
her drug addiction, got her life together and became a loving and useful daughter
again.  Her parents once again included
her in their wills.  More often, it seems,
the parent(s) and child(ren) remain apart and do not reconcile.  Sometimes, the children will feel remorse
after the parent’s death and regret the years of estrangement.  This may be more likely when the estrangement
was simply because the parent(s) and child drifted apart from each other and
were not actually hostile towards one another.

alternative to completely disinheriting the child are open to the unhappy
parent?  Until such time as when (if
ever) the parent and child are reconciled, the parent may consider the
following estate planning alternatives regarding the estranged child:  (1) leaving the child a reduced inheritance;
(2) leaving the child an inheritance in further trust with stipulations that
encourage and motivate the child to reform his/her behavior; (3) leaving some
or all of the child’s inheritance to that child’s own children (who may
themselves be the objects of neglect or abuse).

first option, leaving the child a reduced inheritance, recognizes the child as
once having been a part of the parent’s life.
It also provides an incentive to the child not to contest the will or
trust.  The second option, leaving the
child’s inheritance in further trust, will help prevent the inheritance from
being squandered or abused (further enabling the child’s problematic
behaviors).  The third option, leaving
some or all the inheritance to the grandchildren, recognizes that the
grandchildren are not to blame for their parent’s choices and behavior.  It prevents inadvertent punishment of the
grandchildren by allowing them to be recognized in the estate while bypassing
the individual who was intended to be disinherited.  Each option has its place in estate planning
and can be further explored with a qualified estate planner.

“Serving Lake and Mendocino Counties for nineteen years, the Law Office of Dennis Fordham focuses on legacy and estate planning, trust and probate administration, and special needs planning. We are here for you. 870 South Main Street Lakeport, California 95453-4801. Phone: 707-263-3235.”