There is a prevalent cultural expectation that people will leave their most valuable assets for family members when they die. This belief is so strong that state law even reinforces it with intestate succession laws.
Spouses and children have legally protected rights when someone dies if they did not leave a will. More distant family members also have inheritance rights if someone dies without a spouse and children.
However, familial expectations of an inheritance don’t necessarily align with the reality of a family member’s true legal rights. Depending on the relationship between the parties, it is sometimes possible to disinherit certain immediate family members in Washington state.
You can’t disinherit your spouse
The first thing you need to understand is that completely disinheriting your current spouse is almost impossible to accomplish. They have community property rights under state law that allow them to ask for a portion of your estate even if you leave a will distributing all of your property to other people.
Although some people will still attempt to totally disinherit a spouse through the creation of a trust, probate litigation is very likely in cases where a bitter spouse disinherits their husband or wife.
You can disinherit your children
Unlike your spouse, your children do not have a statutory right of inheritance when you leave your own instructions for the distribution of your property. However, you generally have to specifically mention the decision to disinherit them. If you only omit their name from the documents, they could bring a suit against your estate by claiming that you omitted them by mistake.
Some people get around the risk of a lawsuit related to the risk of probate litigation related to a child’s disinheritance by leaving them a single dollar or a piece of personal property with very little financial value. Generation-skipping trusts are a useful option for those who would like to leave resources for grandchildren but not their children.
Understanding whether disinheritance is possible according to your hopes and the methods you need to employ to achieve your goals can make it easier to accomplish an unusual estate planning wish, like the disinheritance of a child.