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Is My Will Invalid if I Leave Nothing to My Children?

Many parents do not get along with their children. It is an unfortunate reality, but in the context of estate planning, there is nothing that compels a parent to leave any of his or her property to an adult child. Nor is a poor parent-child relationship, in and of itself, evidence of a mental disability or a sign that the parent was not in his right mind when he excluded a child from his will.

Bad Relationship With Children is Not Evidence of “Delusion”

A recent California appeals court decision helps illustrate this point. This is an unpublished decision, so it is not considered binding precedent, but the case explains the law in this area. The case involves a 79-year-old man who died in 2011.

The decedent was something of an elderly miser. He had little contact with his three adult children in his later years, believing they were only after his money. The decedent’s closest relationship involved business. He operated an auto repair shop for many years in Los Angeles. As his business was winding down, he decided to lease part—and later all—of his property to the neighboring car dealership.

In 2009, the decedent executed a last will and testament leaving the property to the owner of the car dealership, and the residue of his estate to the owner and his general manager, whom the decedent described as “friends.” He mentioned his children, but only to exclude them from any inheritance. After the decedent passed away, his children contested the will.

The children first claimed the car dealership owner exercised “undue influence” over their father. A probate judge rejected that argument. The judge did, however, agree with the children on their second argument: that the decedent “lacked capacity when he executed the 2009 will” because he suffered from the “delusion that he did not have a relationship with his children.” The judge said that “but for” this delusion, the decedent “would not have executed that particular will.”

But this was not a correct interpretation of the law, according to the California Fourth District Court of Appeal, which reversed the probate judge and ordered the will admitted to probate. Put simply, the Fourth District said the decedent’s “belief regarding the quality of his relationship with family members does not qualify as delusion.” Even if the decedent had a “mistaken and irrational belief” that his children were “vultures” who only wanted his money, that does not prove he lacked the mental capacity to make a will. Indeed, the appellate court noted there was a “possible factual basis” for the decedent’s beliefs given that he previously watched his children fight over their mother’s estate several years earlier.

A San Diego Estate Planning Attorney Can Help

Disinheriting a child is not an action that should be taken lightly. But nor does the law compel you to leave your estate to an adult child that you have a poor or non-existent relationship with. A San Diego estate planning attorney can advise you on preparing a will that best expresses your wishes. Contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady if you would like to speak with an attorney today.

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