Inheritance laws involve legal rights to property after a death and such laws differ from state-to-state. Heirs usually consist of close family members and exclude estranged relatives. Depending on the wording of a will, an individual can be intentionally, or even unintentionally, disinherited.
In most cases, spouses may not be legally disinherited. Certain contracts, however, allow for a legitimate disinheritance, such as prenuptial agreements or postnuptial agreements. These contracts are typically valid methods of disinheritance because the presumed-to-be inheriting spouse has agreed to the arrangement by signing the document.
If there is no prenuptial arrangement, then the state's elective share statute or “equitable distribution” laws protect the surviving spouse. Pursuant to the elective share statute, he or she may collect a certain percentage of the estate.
In states that follow “community property” or “common law” rules, however, the outcome may be different. An attorney should be consulted for clarification of the differences in the law. Divorces affect spousal inheritance rights. Post-divorce, it is prudent to consult an attorney to draft a fresh will, in order to prevent confusion and unintentional dissemination of assets.
If the will is unambiguous, it is usually possible for a child to be disinherited. It should be noted, however, that it is highly likely that close relatives will challenge or contest a will in which they have been disinherited. Fighting such a lawsuit may put a great financial strain on the estate's assets. Depending on how time-consuming and expensive it is to defend the will, less money may be available for distribution to the intended beneficiaries.
There are ways to protect estate assets from such problems, for example through trusts. It is essential for an individual to receive the counsel of a licensed lawyer in order to effectively protect his or her estate as inexpensively as possible.