What should you know about disinheriting a loved one

Family relationships -- even those between parents and children -- become seemingly irreparably damaged for many reasons. When you're developing your estate plan, you may decide to disinherit a loved one -- leave them nothing. Sometimes, this is done for someone's own good. Money left to a child or other family member mired in addiction could end up killing them.

There are alternatives to disinheritance that would protect your loved one, especially if you hold out hope that they'll turn their life around. It's wise to discuss those alternatives, such as a "spendthrift trust," with your attorney.

However, if you've decided to disinherit a close family member, there are steps you should take to help reduce the chances that they'll contest your estate plan after you're gone. These contests can be expensive, stressful and divisive for everyone involved.

One way to minimize a court challenge is to set up a living trust instead of a will. Unlike a will, the contents of a living trust don't have to be made public. That means that anyone not included in it won't have access to it and will be less likely to challenge it.

One of the most common types of challenges to any estate planning documents involves claiming that the grantor lacked the mental capacity to understand what they were doing. Another common assertion is that the person was unduly influenced by someone else.

These arguments are more difficult to make with a living trust than a will. That's because living trusts are often in effect for years before the person passes away, and changes are often made during that time -- such as placing new accounts and property in them.

If you're leaving a loved one considerably less than other beneficiaries, it may be wise to include a "no-contest" clause in your estate plan. This may be a good idea whether you have a will or living trust. A no-contest clause typically stipulates that if a person unsuccessfully challenges an estate plan, they will not receive any assets that were left to them.

If you're considering leaving a loved one out of your estate plan, leaving them significantly less than other family members (particularly siblings) or developing a trust for their unique circumstances, discuss the pros and cons of each option with your attorney.