Berman & Asbel, LLP

Leaving out children in a will

While many Pennsylvania families generally get along, there are some situations in which resentments, disagreements and long-standing dynamics take their toll. In some cases, these tensions are reflected in family members' wills. This is particularly true in the case of parents who, for a variety of reasons, may choose to leave most or all of their estate to one child while excluding his or her siblings.

Contrary to what some may think, parents are not under an obligation to leave their children anything in their wills. Furthermore, the executor of the will is obligated to ensure that the terms of the will are respected. Executors cannot "take pity" on a disinherited child and change the terms of the will. If one of the children has received all or the bulk of the estate, it is up to the child who inherited to decide whether to share the inheritance with his or her other siblings.

Unfortunately, some parents fail to disclose the terms of their wills before they die. This can lead to an unpleasant surprise for everyone when the will is read and executed. In some cases, disinherited family members may become very bitter toward the family member who benefits from the estate. There have been cases where family members have even challenged the will on the grounds that the person who inherited used undue influence or engaged in some type of fraud.

Because of the complexity of these issues, people may benefit from speaking with an experienced attorney when they are planning the disposition of their estate. An estate planning attorney can often provide advice on wording a will that does not divide an estate equally so as to reduce the chance of somebody contesting it.

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