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Idaho Estate Planning can an Estranged Child Make a Claim Against Their Parent's Estate

By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

Family relationships are unique in every way. This is especially true when it comes to the relationship that exists between a parent and a child. In a fairytale world, all parents love their children, and all children love their parents. However, reality is a little different.

In some instances, for a variety of reasons childrens’ and parents’ relationships become strained. Sometimes this leads to years, or even decades without any contact between a parent and a child.

This circumstance comes up more often than you would think when it comes to estate planning. In meeting with my clients, we always review and go over the family relationships that exist. We do this for a variety of reasons, the main one being understanding who their family members are and the dynamics of the family relationships. As we review the options for our clients’ estate plans, understanding the family relationships helps us guide our clients to making good decisions about their own estate plan.

This is especially true when it comes to dealing with an estranged child. In my mind, an estranged child is one who has not had contact with their parent for several years. It is interesting to note that an estranged child can sometimes live in the same town and sometimes even the same neighborhood as the parent. Sometimes an estranged relationship exists because of some triggering event. However, sometimes the child will simply neglect to contact their parents because of the life decisions they have made.

I’ve often found that estranged children have some serious problem that they are dealing with in their own lives. This could include addictions to things such as drugs or alcohol or gambling. Additionally, sometimes a child has committed a serious crime and been in jail or prison. Finally, sometimes the relationships that children have with each other can create an estranged relationship with their parent. Whatever the reason, when a child is estranged from the parent, the parent usually wonders whether the child can inherit from their estate.

The purpose of this article is to describe circumstances where an estrange child can in fact inherit from their parents’ estate. This article also describes the steps that can be taken by a parent to ensure that an estranged child will not inherit. However, this article is just a summary. If you have questions or concerns, we encourage you to use our free Estate Planning Questionnaire to help guide you in making plans for your estate. We also encourage you to schedule a free 30-minute consultation where we can answer your specific questions and help you make good estate planning decisions.

When There is a Written Will - Intent

The first circumstance that we will discuss in determining whether an estranged child can inherit from a parent’s estate involves a written last will and testament.

Under Idaho law, a written will gives a person the ability to control everything about their estate. This includes who is appointed as the personal representative and it also includes who is listed or named as the beneficiaries of the estate.

The personal representative is the individual who is in charge of the decedent’s estate after the person passes away. This person is appointed through a court process known as probate. This person has a duty and the responsibility to protect the estate assets and make sure that all creditors’ claims and debts are paid. This person also has the responsibility of distributing the estate to the legitimate beneficiaries.

The beneficiaries are the individuals and/or entities who have a legal right to receive the money, property, and other assets from the estate. A beneficiary can be a live breathing person, or it can be a group, entity, charity, or charitable purpose.

When a written will is done correctly, it controls everything that has to do with the decedent’s estate. To be legitimate, and enforceable under Idaho law, a written will must be clear and unambiguous. It must also be signed, dated, witnessed, and notarized.

The main purpose of a written will is to give the individual who is creating the will the opportunity to describe their intent about who is a beneficiary of the estate. The courts in Idaho are required to follow and enforce Idaho law. The law in Idaho says that when a person’s intent is set forth clearly in their written will that intent will be followed. Because intent is the focus of the law, if a parent intends to disinherit a child, that intent will also be carried out.

To summarize, when a written will exists, whatever is clearly written in the will is what happens. If a parent disinherits a child, because they are estranged, then that child will receive no inheritance. However, if the written will indicates that the child will receive a portion of the estate, that intent will be carried out. In other words, so long as the written will is done correctly, it controls.

When There is no Written Will - Statutory Requirements

However, things are much different when there is no written will. When no written will exists, then the laws in Idaho require the estate to be distributed based on the intestate statutes. These statutes provide a list of priorities as to who will be the beneficiaries of the estate. For example, if a person passes away and they have a living spouse, then the spouse receives all community property from the deceased spouse.

When there is no surviving spouse, all the estate is distributed equally to the surviving children. This would include estranged children as well as children who maintained a good relationship with their deceased parent. This happens, even if the parent verbally stated that they didn’t want that child to receive any part of their estate. This is also true even if the parent verbally told the one of the other children that they would receive the entire estate. The reason this happens is because without a written will, there is no clear evidence as to the actual intent of the deceased parent.

So, to summarize, a parent can in fact disinherit an estranged child through a written will. However, if no written will exists, then even an estranged child will receive an equal portion of the estate.

If you have a child that is estranged from you and you have concerns about your estate plan, we can help. We have assisted numerous clients in creating customized estate plans based on their specific circumstances. We are confident that we can help you too!

Enlist an Idaho Estate Planning Attorney to Help You

Our team of Idaho lawyers can help you with any of your estate planning or probate needs. Whether you are seeking to create or review an estate plan for yourself or would like to help a loved one, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial free 30-minute consultation. Call us toll free at 877.232.6101 or 208.232.6101 for a free consultation. You can also email us directly at lane@racineolson.com or stop by our office at 201 East Center Street, Pocatello, Idaho 83201. We will answer your questions and help you solve your Idaho estate planning problems.

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