How To Address Estranged Family Members In Your Estate Plan

Senior Law News | Aug 16, 2022 | Emily A. Martin

In an ideal world, everyone would get along with each member of their family. There would be no question about providing for all of your children or grandchildren in your estate plan. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the real world. For various reasons, many families have different dynamics that result in conflict, and many people do not wish to provide for their children upon their passing. However, if you do not make an estate plan before you become incapacitated or pass away, it is possible that your wishes will not be honored. Many states have default rules called the rules of intestate succession that dictate who will receive your property if you die without a will. Other states have rules regarding “omitted children,” which means if you do not make it clear that you did not intend to provide for your child in your estate plan, they may still be able to make a claim on your assets after your death. Thankfully, there are several strategies to avoid these pitfalls:

  • Outright disinheritance. If you do not want your children or grandchildren to inherit anything from you, you can specifically state in your will or trust that you are intentionally not providing for your child (or whomever you are disinheriting). Although it may sound harsh, it is important to state this explicitly to avoid legal trouble in the future. It is important to be aware that disinheriting a child can be a legally risky move – a child who is angry or confused about being disinherited could contest the will in court. It is important to have your will drafted by an experienced estate planning attorney to make sure this strategy is effective.
  • “No contest” clause. If you want to lessen the chance that your child will start a legal battle over your will, you may want to leave them a nominal or small inheritance. You can then include a “no contest” clause in your will, which states that if they contest the will and are unsuccessful, they will receive no inheritance – not even the smaller one left to them under the will. Most people will not want to risk losing their inheritance, so this can prevent legal battles in the future.
  • Create a trust. If you do not want to leave money directly to a family member because they are irresponsible with money, you may consider providing for them through a trust. Trusts can be designed in almost infinite ways, and they are a great way for you to control the terms on which your family member can receive and spend the money. For example, some trusts are intended to provide for education expenses or preserve assets for people who are receiving needs-based government benefits. Other trusts require beneficiaries to meet certain conditions before they can receive a distribution, such as graduating from college, refraining from drug use, or working at a full-time job.

Each family is unique – there is no “one size fits all” estate plan. For that reason, it is important to seek the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney when creating your estate plan.


Hook Law Center: Jolene, is it true that kangaroos have the ability to communicate with humans?

Jolene: This is an interesting question. A new study has shown that kangaroos have the ability to intentionally communicate with humans, an ability that is normally seen in domesticated animals like dogs. Research showed that when a kangaroo was given an “unsolvable task” like opening a closed box with food inside, the kangaroo looked at the human researcher instead of trying to open the box on their own. Because of this research, scientists have determined that instead of it being an evolved trait of domesticated animals, this communication is something that some animals can learn given the right environmental conditions, such as living around humans in a zoo setting. The research was conducted with 11 kangaroos from different species.

Emily A. Martin

Attorney, Shareholder, Esq.
757-399-7506 | 252-722-2890
[email protected]

Emily A. Martin is a Shareholder of Hook Law practicing in the areas of elder law, estate and trust administration, estate planning, asset protection planning, litigation and dispute resolution, guardianship and conservatorship, long-term care planning, special needs planning and financial planning. To date, Ms. Martin has overseen over 100 guardianship and conservatorship matters. In addition to being admitted to the Virginia State Bar and North Carolina State Bar, she is licensed to practice before the Department of Veterans Affairs. Ms. Martin is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and Virginia Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. She is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington and Regent University School of Law. Prior to joining the firm in 2018, Emily worked as an estate planning and elder law attorney in Virginia Beach for several years.

Practice Areas

  • Elder Law
  • Estate & Trust Administration
  • Estate Planning
  • Asset Protection Planning
  • Guardianship & Conservatorship
  • Long-Term Care Planning
  • Special Needs Planning
  • Financial Planning
Make a Plan
Let's make a plan.
We help individuals and their families navigate the legal maze and implement plans to secure their futures. By working together, we're able to offer comprehensive planning, life care services and legal representation, giving you peace of mind for what ever life brings.