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Can people in California disinherit their family members?

On Behalf of | Nov 3, 2023 | Estate Planning |

Children and spouses often feel a sense of entitlement towards an immediate family member’s assets. There is an expectation that people will leave their property for their immediate family members when they die. In fact, some people even plan their futures based on what they expect to inherit.

Those who have had strained relationships with their loved ones sometimes decide that they have a different legacy they would like to leave instead. Maybe they want to give certain resources to charity or skip a generation to provide financial support for their grandchildren instead of their children.

Some types of disinheritance are possible

If someone dies without a will in California, then state law mandates what happens to their property. Spouses and children have inheritance rights that supersede the rights of other parties. However, if someone takes the time to plan their own estate, then they have control over who receives which assets from their estate. People can choose to leave absolutely nothing for their children or grandchildren. They can also choose to leave assets for some of their progeny but not all of them or to leave very uneven inheritances. The one exception to this rule is when someone hopes to disinherit their spouse.

California is a community property state in which spouses have a shared interest in the income and assets acquired during their marriage. A testator cannot fully disinherit their spouse. Attempting to do so could lead to probate litigation and a spouse claiming their rights under community property laws. Children and other family members have no such legal protection if someone drafts valid estate planning paperwork.

To successfully disinherit someone, testators typically need to mention the choice to disinherit a specific person or group of individuals. They may also choose to leave very small, low-value assets to the disinherited parties to prevent them from claiming in probate court that a testator simply forgot them. The decision to disinherit family members could very well trigger conflict in probate court. People often need to discuss their choices with their loved ones or risk having probate litigation consume resources from their estate and undermine their actual wishes.

Learning more about what California law says about inheritance rights and estate planning may benefit those with very specific wishes regarding the distribution of their assets after they die. Seeking legal guidance in this regard can be very helpful as well.