Can you disinherit your child? The answer is generally yes. To do so, you must explicitly state that you intend to disinherit that child in your will. If your child is a minor, the state laws typically provide some sort of allowance out of the assets of your estate to support your child until he or she reaches the age of majority.
Can you disinherit your spouse? The answer is generally no. But if you and your spouse waived the right to be included in each other’s estate in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, you may then entirely omit your spouse from taking anything under your will. In the absence of such an agreement, you can limit the amount your spouse will receive to a statutorily defined minimum. All states have laws that shield a surviving spouse from being completely cut off.
Typically, your surviving spouse could choose between the property you left to him or her in your will or a statutory share set by state law. Depending on the state law where you reside, this spousal share is usually one-third or one-half of your estate. The rules for calculating the amount of the share differ remarkably from state to state. Additionally, in community property states, the surviving spouse already owns half of the community property at the death of the other spouse.
The threat of will contest and the expense and delay they occasion prompts competent lawyers to encourage their clients to avoid completely cutting someone out. Instead, it may be advisable to leave the person a relatively small amount and put in an “in terrorum” clause. These clauses state that if the person contests the will, he will forfeit that small amount. The consequences of will contests are another important reason most people should avoid a do-it-yourself will. Lawyers are trained and experienced to prepare wills and will make sure the wording and execution is done according to the law. If it seems possible that someone may later claim that the testator lacked competence, the lawyer can produce qualified medical and other witnesses at the execution ceremony to ameliorate those claims.