Estate Planning Tips: Avoiding Accidental Disinheritance - Hackstaff, Snow, Atkinson & Griess, LLC

Estate Planning Tips: Avoiding Accidental Disinheritance

Accidental Disinheritance Most people are aware that disinheriting someone is the intentional act of preventing a person from receiving a share of the deceased’s estate. But “accidental” or “unintended” disinheritance is what happens when someone fully intends to leave assets to a family member, but improper or inaccurate estate planning practices result in that person being disinherited, usually by a technicality. And, it’s an easy mistake to make if you’re not careful.

Accidental Disinheritance Cause #1: Neglecting to Update Your Estate Plan

Once an estate plan is created, it’s easy to file it away and forget about it. But life changes, and your estate plan should change with it. Think of the estate plan as a living document, one that you update periodically as you move through life stages. Families grow and change through marriage, divorce, remarriage, birth and death, and with such changes so do family dynamics. 

A common scenario is a re-marriage. If you remarry and have children, adopt children, or welcome grandchildren into your life, it’s crucial to update your estate plan so that your new family members are provided for. Relying on the state to include those beneficiaries without a proper estate plan is risky at best. It’s much easier to revisit and update an estate plan for smoother sailing later.

Accidental Disinheritance Cause #2:  Leaving All to Spouse, Who Can Then Disinherit Your Intended Beneficiaries

 A surviving spouse can change their estate plan.  For example, a husband and wife create a basic estate plan in which they each leave everything to each other.  At the time, they each provided that after the death of both, the three children would receive everything equally.  However, after the death of the first spouse, without the proper protections in place, the surviving spouse can amend his or her estate plan and disinherit one or more of the children, even though the spouse that died first would have wanted all three children to inherit.  This is an accidental disinheritance by the spouse that dies first, but an intentional disinheritance by the second spouse.

Accidental Disinheritance Cause #3: Doing Your Estate Planning Yourself, Without a Professional Advisor

State laws around estates and trusts can be highly nuanced and tricky to navigate. You may think that a DIY estate plan is sufficient, but there may be omissions in your plan that you don’t realize, and thus leave your beneficiaries unprovided for, especially if you have a large estate and a complex collection of assets. 

Related: Important Considerations for High Net Worth Estate Planning

Accidental Disinheritance Cause #4: Not Having an Estate Plan at All

The worst scenario for accidental disinheritance is not having an estate plan at all. Without a will or a thorough plan, your assets can be tied up in probate and the state will ultimately decide how they are distributed. Without a plan, you have no assurance that your spouse or even your children will receive what you would want them to. It’s a roll of the dice that is guaranteed to leave one or more of your loved ones out in the cold. 

The Good News? Accidental Disinheritance is Easy to Prevent.

The best way to ensure your loved ones will receive the assets that you want them to receive is to work with a professional who knows the ins and outs of Colorado estate law, and can help you find the best strategies to produce the best possible outcomes. It’s also important to revisit your plan every few years, especially with major life changes, to ensure that the plan is still sufficient for you and your family’s needs.

The experienced attorneys at Hackstaff, Snow, Atkinson & Griess are extremely well-versed in the subtleties of estate planning strategy, and can help you create a comprehensive plan. Learn more about our Estate Planning practice, and contact us today for a free consultation.