J. Kelly Kennedy, Attorney/CPA, PLLC

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Attorney and CPA

Leaving relatives out of a will can lead to big conflicts

When they begin to plan their estates, most Florida residents want to create a will that will provide for their relatives and treat everyone as fairly as possible. However, there are times when people might want to leave a relative out of a will. Sometimes there's a good reason for this decision, and sometimes not. It's important for people to think carefully before they attempt to leave someone out.

Sometimes, people want to leave a spouse or a child out of a will because of an argument. In many of these cases, the person settling the will, known as the testator, later comes to regret the decision. Sadly, in some of these cases, the testator doesn't get around to revising the will after the two resolve their differences and the relative ends up getting nothing.

Disinherited relatives may try to fight this result through a will contest, in which they go to court to try to show that the will was improperly executed. These lawsuits can be important, but they can also be time-consuming and expensive and lead to very ugly disputes within families.

There are also many less emotional reasons to leave relatives out of a will. Some testators would rather leave their estate to benefit a charity, because their relatives have their own fortunes.

Some families also have special reasons for not wanting to leave an inheritance in one lump sum. For example, testators may not want to leave a large amount of cash with a son who has a gambling problem or drug addiction. In cases such as this, a trust may offer a more responsible way to provide for relatives.

Florida residents should also know that state law provides for surviving spouse to take an elective share of the deceased spouse's estate. This can mean that a spouse can take up to 30 percent of the estate even if the testator has neglected to include the spouse in the will. This can be especially problematic in cases where the spouses were estranged but never divorced.

There are many factors to consider when Florida residents begin to plan their estates. Many of the will contests and disputes that pop up over inheritance can be avoided through careful estate planning.

Source: Bloomberg, "You Want to Cut Your Kid Out of Your Will. Or Do You?" Lewis Braham, July 23, 2013