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Can You Successfully Disinherit a Family Member?

November 22, 2023 • | Curran Estate & Elder Law, PLLC
If you want to exclude someone from the will, is it best to leave them a dollar so they can’t challenge being excluded? Can you put in a provision that if they challenge the will, they lose everything?

You do not have to leave your estate to anyone. Suppose you leave everything in your estate to one person and exclude someone else who might normally be included. In that case, it is your choice, according to the article “Estate Planning: Disinheriting a loved one” from

Many people ask about using the “one dollar bequest.” However, it is not a commonly used provision nor is it necessary.

Depending upon the state, some estate planning attorneys prefer to acknowledge the disinherited individual and recognize their exclusion was the intention of the Testator (the person whose Will is being prepared). Some use language like this: “I make no provision for my daughter, Jane Smith, and have done so knowingly and intentionally.”

This language doesn’t offer a lot for the disinherited individual to challenge. What language could cause a problem? Try this: “I make no bequest for my daughter Jane Smith because she drinks too much.” This opens the door for Jane to prove she doesn’t drink any more than the average person, and if Dad had only known this, he wouldn’t have excluded her.

It may not be the best argument heard in a courtroom. However, it wouldn’t be the worst either.

The issue of using a no contest clause in a Will is different. A no contest clause in a Will is known as an in terrorem clause. In Latin, in terrorem means “in fear of.” This clause can be used to punish someone who challenges a Will. The punishment could be automatic removal of all inheritance from the Will, removal of the person as an Executor or Trustee, and/or a shift of legal costs to the person who challenges the Will. The clause intends to deter a challenge.  As practitioners in Berks County, Pennsylvania, this clause is valid.

The clause can add an additional layer of protection for people who are concerned about family members who might react to being disinherited.

The critical thing to remember is you may leave or not leave your estate or portions of your estate to whomever you want to. Do not let traditions or conventions of what you “should” do impact how you distribute your estate.

However, in Pennsylvania, you cannot disinherit a spouse unless previous contractual agreements to do so are put into place (such as a paragraph added to a Prenuptial Agreement).

Speak with your estate planning attorney if you are concerned about ensuring that your wishes are carried out. When your Will goes through probate, it becomes a public document. Therefore, anyone who goes to the Courthouse and asks for the file can read it.

Reference: (Oct. 15, 2023) “Estate Planning: Disinheriting a loved one”

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