In this post, I discuss the steps Arkansas requires to disinheriting children. It’s not as easy a simply leaving a child out of your will.
Many parents, for various reasons, want to disinherit a child. Sometimes when a child and a parent are estranged or when a child has chosen a lifestyle of which the parent disapproves, the parent wants to ensure that the child does not inherit anything. This is often known as being “written out of the will.” Whatever the motivation, the desire to disinherit children is not uncommon.
Motivations for Disinheriting Children
The motivations for disinheriting children are not always malevolent. Some parents choose to disinherit a child unlucky in love. They simply do not want their property divided up among a series of ex-wives and lovers. Other parents have children that struggle with addiction and are afraid an inheritance will serve only to enable their child to fall deeper into their dangerous lifestyle.
Sometimes the motivations for disinheriting children are in fact benevolent. Some parents have children with a wide-disparity of success. They may choose to disinherit a highly successful child, in order to better provide for a struggling child. Often this is done with the full knowledge and consent of the disinherited child. Finally, sometimes parents simply want to leave all of their property to charity. Circumstances vary, and motivations for disinheriting children are not always as gloomy as the subject might suggest.
Pretermitted Heir Statute
Disinheriting children must be done carefully and explicitly in Arkansas. Arkansas’s pretermitted heir statute protects the interests of a decedent’s children by requiring the parents to make their intent to disinherit the child explicit.
In Arkansas, if you wish to disinherit a child, you may not merely omit your child’s name from your will. Under Arkansas law, any child not named in the will is assumed to have been unintentionally omitted and will therefore be entitled to a share of the estate equal to what he or she would have been entitled to had the parent died intestate.
So, for example, if you have three children, John, Kaylin, and Trey, and your will states that your estate is to be left, “to Kaylin and Trey,” Arkansas will assume that you omitted John unintentionally. John will therefore be entitled to his share under the intestate statute, which in this scenario would be one-third.
Alternatively, if your will merely stated that your estate is to be left “to the First Baptist Church,” Arkansas law will again assume that you unintentionally omitted your children. Consequently, they will be entitled to their intestate share—which in total would equal your entire probate estate—and thereby leave the First Baptist Church with nothing.
How to Disinherit a Child
This is not to say that disinheriting children is particularly difficult in Arkansas. Your will must simply specifically mention each child or your children as a class. So, in the hypothetical above, if you wanted to leave your estate to your children Kaylin and Trey but not John, you would simply state something similar to “I leave my entire estate to my children, Kaylin and Trey, but to my son John, I leave nothing. John shall have no share of my estate.” In the second scenario, you could state something to the effect of “I leave my entire estate to First Baptist Church, but to my children, I leave nothing; my children shall have no share of my estate.” You can also simply state that any child not mentioned is disinherited. In addition, if the existence of unknown children is a concern, you can make a provision for this as well.
Of course, disinheriting children can be quite an emotional issue, so if you are interested in disinheriting your children, I would encourage you to consider the matter very carefully. If you do decide to go this route, you must do so clearly and deliberately. There is no way to implicitly disinherit a child through a will.