Can I Disinherit My Kid for Repeating My Career Mistake?

Dear Penny,

Can I write my children out of my will for doing something against my wishes? Specifically, if one of them wants to start a business, but I would rather them work a steady job for someone else?

I am a failed entrepreneur myself but have since gotten back on my feet. It would pain me for my children to fail at something they worked so hard at. I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I did.


Dear T.,

Let’s be clear about what your mistake was: You took a risk and built something. You worked really hard, but you still failed. And yet in spite of all that, you’re still standing.

You can write your kids out of your will for any reason (or no reason at all). But that’s not something I’d advise unless they’ve done something truly egregious.

Think about the message you want to send your kids. Is it to never take risks? Is it to never try too hard at something because you might fail? Is it that failure is so shameful you can never recover from it?

It doesn’t matter how great your relationship was with your kids while you were alive. The reality is that if you disinherit your child because you disagreed with their career choices, it will forever taint their memory of you. Plus, if you write one child out of the will while leaving the other kids an inheritance, the odds of family disputes become especially high.

There’s a lot I wish I knew here, including how old your kids are and whether they’ve actually caught the entrepreneurial bug or if you’re just hoping to pre-emptively squash it. But I think you can set up your estate in a way that puts some safeguards in place for your children without cutting them out altogether should they choose to start a business.

One option would be to set up a revocable living trust for the assets that you planned to distribute through your will. Doing so would give you greater control over how your property is distributed when you die.

For example, you may be worried…

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