Your parents deciding to divorce can be upsetting regardless of your age. You may be an adult, living on your own and perhaps even married with a family of your own, but the end of your parents’ marriage can still hit you hard emotionally.
Of course, a divorce does more than end a marriage: It changes the structure of the family unit. And, while this “restructuring” naturally has a more significant impact on minor children, it can take a toll on adult children as well.
Unfortunately, your emotional well-being may not be the only thing at stake when your parents split up – your inheritance could be on the line as well.
Just as with younger couples, a divorce between an older couple can still be acrimonious. Unlike when minor children are involved, there are no rules against parental alienation when the children are adults. This can lead to one or both parents turning to their adult child or children for support – and expecting them to take sides.
It is not unheard of for a parent to cut a child out of their estate for refusing to choose sides – or for sticking by the other parent. If the parent passes away without updating their will to include that child, there is little that can be done to remedy the situation.
Fortunately, little is not nothing. If you are currently estranged from one of your parents due to their marriage ending, we do have a few suggestions.
Address the issue with your parent sooner rather than later
Let’s be honest: Your parents are not getting any younger. If you are estranged from one or both of them because of a contentious divorce – or for any other reason – and they have taken you out of their will, now is the time to handle it. If you miss the opportunity to heal your relationship and your parent passes away without reinstating you in their last will and testament, the situation will only become more complicated. In Tennessee, parents can legally disinherit their child. They are not required to state a reason in the will.
So, try speaking with your parent. If the divorce is complete and the dust has settled, they may be more willing to understand why you chose to remain neutral or why you may have been more sympathetic to your other parent. Repairing your relationship with your parent should be about more than simply getting back into their good graces and their will. If they sense that your intentions are sincere, they may realize that having you in their life is more important to any feelings of bitterness or betrayal.
If your parent does die without putting you back into their will, you will be left with two options: either contest the will (and hope that you win) or appeal to a sibling or other family member who was not cut out of the estate.
Consider contesting your parent’s will if you were cut out because you refused to take sides in their divorce
Contesting a last will and testament can be challenging. If your parent has made the decision to exclude you from their estate, you may have to demonstrate that they were not of sound mind and body at the time they made the change. In order to prove that this, you will need medical and legal documentation of their mental and physical health when they updated their will.
Keep in mind, however, that this may be an expensive uphill battle that results in a trial. And, unless your parent was diagnosed with a serious illness that affected their ability to make decisions, and this condition was documented, you may not be able to prove your case.
Appeal to your family for help if you were disinherited due to your parents’ divorce
If you are the only child who was left out of or removed from the will, consider speaking with your siblings who were not disinherited. This may be your best chance at remedying the situation. If your siblings are aware of the full situation and are sympathetic to your plight, they may decide to give you a portion of the inheritance from their share – regardless of what is stated in the will.
Of course, there is also a chance that they may choose not to split the inheritance with you. If this happens, you are out of options. The reality is that the choice is theirs. By being named in the will when you were not, they hold all the cards and are not legally required to share their inheritance with you.
The bottom line is simple: You must decide which means more to you – your family relationships or your cut of the inheritance. It may not be possible to have both.
Being disinherited does not always involve a divorce
It’s worth noting that, obviously, not all parents who choose to disinherit their child do so because of bad blood related to a divorce. For instance, before his death in 2006, the prolific (and tremendously wealthy) film and television producer Aaron Spelling famously cut his daughter, actress Tori Spelling, almost entirely out of his will. In fact, Tori Spelling and her brother, Randy, each received a mere $800,000 from their father’s estate which was estimated at approximately $500 million estate. The bulk of the inheritance went to their mother, Aaron Spelling’s wife, Candy Spelling.
While most people do not face the prospect of losing an inheritance worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the loss of even a much smaller amount can still be painful.
Regardless of the reason you’ve been disinherited, being excluded from your parent’s will can hurt you emotionally and financially. The situation is not hopeless, however. Every case is different and a seasoned Maryville estate lawyer can assess your specific circumstances and advise you on the best way to proceed. As skilled litigators experienced in matters involving estate litigation and the contesting of wills, the East Tennessee wills and trusts lawyers at Shepherd & Long, P.C. stand ready to help. For more information, or to schedule a consultation, call us at 865-982-8060 or fill out our contact form today.