Most people have no desire to disinherit one of their children. However, sometimes it might be desired or even necessary. Even when that is the case, disinheriting a child can lead to lengthy and costly legal battles that tear families apart.
Most people attempt to leave all of their children an equal proportion of their assets. That is not always easy to do. If the majority of assets are tied up in a business, for example, then it may be prudent to leave the business to the child who is active in the business. Otherwise, the business may not run efficiently or may fail completely. However, even when there are good reasons for leaving everything to one child, disinherited children will often choose to fight in court. A recent article in The New York Times, titled “In Inheritance Battle, Judge Sides Against Perelmans,” reported on a legal dispute over the estate of billionaire Robert Cohen.
Late in his life Mr. Cohen was sick and changed his estate plan. He had a son and a daughter. It appears that Cohen decided to leave everything to his son, as it was his desire for the son to carry on the business. However, the daughter was married to the wealthy chairman of Revlon. He and the daughter both attempted to contest Cohen's will. They claimed that the inheriting son had manipulated Mr. Cohen. A judge in New Jersey decided otherwise and ruled in favor of the son.
With the significant dollars at stake in the Cohen estate, it may not have been possible to prevent a legal fight between the family members. Nevertheless, there were steps that could have been taken to make such a battle less likely.
For instance, it would have been better for Cohen to finalize his plans before he was dying. You should never wait until the last minute to make (or change) an estate plan. That does not leave time to explain to your family why you are doing something unusual. Had Cohen acted earlier, he might also have been able to rearrange assets and divide them more equally between his children while still leaving the business intact for his son.
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Reference New York Times (June 25, 2014) “In Inheritance Battle, Judge Sides Against Perelmans”