The mistake clients frequently make is entering the estate planning process with the wrong mindset. As with anything, you need to have a positive and clear outlook for the future, and you have to make smart choices that are dictated by a plan. These choices should not be instigated as a result of something more trivial. As humans, we are susceptible to spitefulness, jealousy, anger, frustration, and other various emotions. Sometimes, when we are clouded by these vulnerable feelings, we may go into the process with an agenda that will simply be devastating for all involved. Giving in to these tense emotions will only make a potentially tense situation worse.
To disinherit means to disown, to leave out of the will, and to forget that you were ever connected to that person. It’s not a term without significant consequences. If we allow anger to color the path of our posterity planning and start bandying about words like disown or disinherit without truly valid reason, we are not remaining true to what posterity planning is really meant to do. In all honesty, can you say that getting revenge after your death is the best way to address problems you may have with a family member such as a sibling or a child? Probably not. Thus, our McKinney estate planning attorneys abide by the “friends don’t let friend’s drive drunk” approach or, in this case, good attorneys don’t let clients create an estate plan while angry.
The Estranged Child
“When mom and dad went to war, the only prisoners they took were the children.” —Pat Conroy
Here’s a prime example of what I’m talking about. A client comes to me to create her estate plan. Some time ago, her husband some had left her for another woman. The client’s son subsequently decided to spend the bulk of his time with his father, although he did visit his mother. Obviously, given the situation and the circumstances associated with the marriage’s dissolution, my client was hurt. She’d gotten little money during the divorce settlement as her ex-husband really hadn’t made that much. A stay-at-home mom until their son was nine, she’d also foregone her own career.
Ultimately, however, she was able to land a great job with lucrative pay--but the sting of her son choosing his father over his mother never really left her. She came to me with a history of anger and an ostensible vendetta. She declared her intention of leaving the entirety of her estate to her sister’s kids, thereby cutting her son out completely. However, as a level headed, posterity planning attorney, I chose to guide the anger-influenced client toward the light. Creating an estate plan in anger as a means of revenge or spite is never a good place from which to begin. What I had to say was this: If you included him in your estate, what would happen? In other words, how might this change the dynamic? How would leaving him out really make a point, especially after her death? She struggled with this question. I could tell it made her somewhat uncomfortable to have to think about this.
A different situation arose when a client of mine could not forgive her daughter for not calling her father before he died. She had been greatly hurt by the fact that her daughter had moved away years ago, and did not call, and wanted to disinherit her daughter. I asked her why, and she replied, “Because she does not call.” I asked her if she had tried to call her and her response was “No. I would not call her and I won’t forgive her if she did call.” I looked at her and tried to say this in the most loving tone: “So, she is just like you.” Tears welled up in her eyes. She knew it was true. I asked her to consider the fact that she really did not want to disinherit her daughter, but just wanted to get her relationship back--though she still insisted on disinheritance.
Since all of her assets were bank accounts and other beneficiary designated assets, I explained to her that if she disinherited her daughter in a will, that would be a permanent record of hate towards her daughter and her daughter’s descendants, and would always be remembered. However, if she left her daughter on the will, but just changed the beneficiary designation on her accounts to her other child, then the disinherited daughter may never know. In addition, if she later changed her mind, she could easily add the daughter to the beneficiary designations. She felt relieved with the idea and decided the change of beneficiary designations would be a better idea than disinheriting her daughter outright.
Plan Accordingly for the Future
Envision what you want for your family, and if anger or jealousy is in the picture, you may need to put aside that clouded perception, rising above the present in order to appreciate what may happen in the future. This is precisely what my client was ultimately able to accomplish. She at last figured out, with a little guidance from me, what was best for her family dynamics. Every family is different; one must make sure the client has carefully thought about the consequences of what is oftentimes a permanent action.
Stressing the point of not disinheriting a child should not be construed as an absolute. Certain situations demand this type of action to protect and care for your loved ones. However, our McKinney estate planning attorneys believe you should avoid treating children unequally at all costs, because of the conflict it may cause between siblings. My goal is always to preserve relationships as best as possible. Sometimes we must choose which relationships to preserve and some others need to be cut off. Our legal team feels this should not be done in anger, but only after careful consideration.
Contact Our McKinney Estate Planning Lawyers Today
If you are in need of a McKinney estate planning attorney you can trust who will advise you on the best course of action, look no further than The Willingham Law Firm, PC. Our dedicated and trusted legal team prioritizes finding comprehensive solutions for even the most complicated of situations--we want to ensure your family and your legacy are taken care of, long after you are gone.
Schedule an initial consultation with a member of our firm today. Contact us by calling (214) 499-9647.