It is common practice for people to name their closest family members as beneficiaries in their estate. Spouses and children, as well as grandchildren, are often the primary recipients of someone’s estate. When a testator adds a beneficiary to their estate plan, it is often an expression of both personal responsibility and abiding familial affection. They will often try to be as fair as possible so that all the beneficiaries receive comparable inheritances.
Sometimes, family circumstances change and leave an estate plan outdated. Occasionally, people have to undergo the tragic process of removing a beneficiary because they died before the testator. Other times, the beneficiary someone wants to remove is still alive. They may have had a falling out that damaged the relationship, or perhaps the testator does not approve of what that beneficiary has done with their life.
What will a testator need to do to successfully remove a beneficiary from their estate plan?
1. Acknowledge the change in their documents
The simplest way to remove a beneficiary would simply involve omitting them from the documents entirely. However, especially if the testator only wants to eliminate one beneficiary and will still provide an inheritance for other family members, they will typically need to address that decision directly or risk the excluded beneficiary challenging their wishes.
Directly addressing the decision to disinherit someone or to only leave them a very small portion of the estate is a means of reducing the chance of a probate challenge because a testator eliminated someone’s inheritance.
2. Discuss the change with the family
Ideally, even the person losing their inheritance will eventually hear about that decision from the testator. Families that understand someone’s wishes and the justification for their decisions will be more likely to follow through with upholding that individual’s legacy as outlined in their estate plan.
In some cases, the difficult conversations that someone must have with their family related to estate planning changes might actually lead to positive adjustments in their family relationships. Even if no such changes occur, transparency about estate planning wishes will help reduce the likelihood of family members undermining a testator’s wishes after they die.
Taking the right steps when estate planning and updating documents can help someone achieve their intended legacy.