Can My Deadbeat Son Fight My Decision to Disinherit Him?

Dear Penny,

I am 73 and have one son who is unmarried and lives in the same town. I also have five siblings. I am very close to my youngest sister who is on disability. I paid my home off two years ago, and I have some 401 (k) savings.

I am planning on leaving my home and all of my 401(k) and savings accounts to my sister. I owe no money to anyone. I have a $10,000 life insurance policy I put in my son’s name.

I know he will be upset, but he has been stealing from me for years as he did with his dad when he was living. He has a set of master keys and gets in even after I’ve changed my locks and also stole my extra car key! Can he fight my decision in court to get the money and house after I pass on?


Dear L.,

I can’t promise you that your son won’t fight your decisions in court. But it’s actually quite difficult to win such a challenge. Still, there are a few things you can do to make it even harder for your son to successfully contest your final wishes.

Your son probably has standing to contest your will and beneficiary designations. That doesn’t mean he’d actually win — it just means he’d have the right to make the case. In many states, any close relatives who would automatically stand to inherit assets from someone if they died with no will can mount a challenge, as can anyone named in a previous version of the will.

Winning is much more difficult. Your son would probably have to prove that you lacked mental capacity or were under improper influence when you made your estate plan. Or he’d have to prove that the relevant documents weren’t signed in accordance with your state law. He doesn’t have a right to an inheritance just because he feels entitled to one.

One way to avoid a court dispute is to keep as many assets out of probate as possible. Retirement accounts, like your 401(k), pass directly to whomever you name as your beneficiary. So as long as your sister is listed, that money will avoid…

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