If you have a normal, close relationship with your parents, you may assume you will inherit any property or assets they leave behind. However, as this article will explore, you may be one of the many people surprised to find you have been disinherited by an elderly parent. While estate planning law has long recognized that children are the natural objects of a parent's affection, unless the child is with his elderly parent on an almost continuous basis, that parent can easily begin to transfer his affection to a caretaker or friend that would not otherwise be entitled to inherit.
This discussion is specifically directed at the complex problems many adult children face as their elderly parents become subject to the influence of caretakers, neighbors, acquaintances, and other individuals that may seek to take advantage. See
inheritance theft. Unless you are fortunate enough to be with your elderly parent the majority of the time and help your parent manage his or her day to day affairs, your parent may be vulnerable to the undue influence of someone that seeks to gain access to all or part of your family estate.It is important to understand that in the broadest sense, disinheritance can occur in several different ways. It does not always happen via a written will or living trust document. When most people think of being disinherited, they imagine a group of heirs sitting in a room with an attorney and having a will being read aloud. In reality, your parent can disinherit you in a much less formal way, and in many cases, without you even knowing about it.
Can Disinherited Heirs Get Info on Trust?
Unlike wills that are subject to probate, living trusts and other types of estate planning trusts are administered privately after the death of the person that made the trust. This makes it more difficult for heirs of the decedent to obtain information about the estate. For information on who has the right to obtain information about these types of trusts from the trustee, see
right to information about trust.
Disinheritance Without a Will
You may be thinking, my parent could not have disinherited me because I am named in the will. If your parent does not have a will, you may think you are entitled to inherit under applicable state intestacy laws. Unfortunately, if someone is intent on getting their hands on your parent's estate, they do not necessarily need to get access to estate planning documents. There are many other ways for your inheritance to be lost to someone that gets in between you and your parent. For specific examples of the financial risks facing vulnerable seniors, see
inheritance theft.One of the most common ways a parent can disinherit you is by giving away your inheritance to someone else in an inter vivos gift. For example, you may believe a particular piece of property will be passed down to you by your parent as part of an estate. However, if your parent gives such property away to someone else during his or her lifetime, the property will not be part of the estate. See Accidental Disinheritance. As a result, you will not inherit the property, regardless of your standing as an heir under state intestate succession laws or being a named beneficiary in a will.Property deed transfers or changes to property title may also result in the natural heir being disinherited. For a variety of reasons, your parent may add another name to his or her property deeds, or actually convey title to a third party, without your knowledge. Provided your parent is of sound mind and had the legal capacity to transfer title to property, there is typically nothing the child can do to get the property back.A large portion of your parent's estate may be held in bank certificates of deposit, money market accounts, retirement accounts or brokerage accounts. These accounts allow your parent to name a pay on death or POD beneficiary to directly receive the proceeds of the account rather than having such assets become part of the estate and go through probate. Your parent may name a beneficiary other than you or your siblings without your knowledge. The named beneficiary may be someone that is not related to your parent.
Because of the care and concern you have shown your parent, you may assume you will be the named beneficiary on these accounts. However, unless you are actively involved in overseeing your parent's finances, you may be surprised to find the housekeeper, nurse, neighbor, friend, girlfriend or boyfriend named as the beneficiary instead of you. Your aging parent may also become more vulnerable to donation requests from churches and charities during this time. Finally, if one of your siblings lives closer to your senior parent, you may find your sibling is named a beneficiary when you are not, or receives a much greater inheritance. See how to protect a parent from greedy siblings.
Does Surviving Spouse Have to Honor Deceased Spouse's Will?
Many heirs have questions about their inheritance rights after one of their parents dies, leaving the marital estate to the surviving spouse. For example, you may know that your deceased parent intended for the children to inherit whatever is left of the marital estate after the surviving spouse passes away. However, now that the surviving spouse is in control of all of the assets of your deceased parent, you may be concerned that the surviving spouse does not intend to leave you the inheritance that was intended for you. To learn whether the surviving parent is required to honor the deceased parent's will, see deceased parents will.