If you make a will, you can leave property to your blood relatives -- your children, grandchildren, parents, siblings and other biological relatives -- or you can exclude them from your will. If you die without leaving a will, a state probate court will divide your property between your spouse, if you are married, and some of your blood relatives. If you leave a will that is unclear, doesn't follow your state's requirements for a valid will, or contains odd provisions that suggest you are not mentally competent, your blood relatives can challenge the will.
State Inheritance Laws
Each state has its own complex laws regarding what constitutes a valid will and which of your blood relatives will inherit your property if you die without one. If you make a valid will, you can choose to disinherit any of your blood relations, including your children. Only Louisiana does not allow parents to disinherit a child. Although your spouse is not considered a blood relative, most states provide legal protections to spouses whereby you cannot disinherit your spouse so long as you are legally married.
Typically, if you die without leaving a will, known as dying intestate, the probate court will give your property to your surviving spouse, children or grandchildren, a process known as intestate succession. If you die without a spouse, children or grandchildren, your property may go to your parents or siblings. You may wish to consult your state's laws to determine the exact blood relative intestate succession rights in your state.
Dying without a will means blood relatives whom you dislike may inherit a substantial amount of your property, while your live-in companion, other blood relatives you are fond of and friends may receive nothing. In addition, if you die without a will, a probate court must appoint an administrator to review your estate and locate your heirs, a process that can create delays and expenses that drain your estate's cash.
If you are drafting or updating your will, be sure that it conforms to your state's requirements for a valid will. States typically require your will to be signed and dated, contain no confusing language and have no unusual bequests that suggest your mind is impaired. Otherwise, your blood relatives may be able to successfully challenge your will.
Blood Relatives Challenge
In one well-known example of blood relatives challenging a will, two grandchildren of Leona Helmsley, a deceased wealthy businesswoman, successfully attacked her will, which disinherited them while leaving millions of dollars to her dog. A judge decided that Helmsley was mentally unfit while drafting the will. Therefore, the court ordered that each disinherited grandchild receive $6 million and the dog's share of Helmsley's estate reduced to $2 million.
- Financial Web: Estate Planning: Can You Disinherit Your Child?
- Colorado State University Extension: How Property Passes at Death
- FindLaw: State Laws: Estates and Probate
- Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!; Andrew W. Mayoras and Danielle B. Mayoras
- Thorne and Thorne, Inc.: Do You Need a Will?
- Forbes: Should You Disinherit Your Husband?
- Oxford International Encyclopedia of Legal History; American History of Inheritance Law; Adam J. Hirsch
- Annotated Justinian Code: Book VI, Title XV -- the Right of Possession of an Inheritance
- MSNBC.com: Family of Heiress Huguette Clark Claims Fraud by Nurse, Attorney, Accountant
- University of Maryland: Dead Hands -- A Social History of Wills, Trusts, and Inheritance Law
- Time: Trouble the Maltese Terrier Vs. Leona Helmsley's Grandchildren; Nick Carbone
Robin Elizabeth Margolis is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area. She has been writing about health care, science, nutrition, fitness and law since 1988, and served as the editor of a health law newsletter. Margolis holds a bachelor of arts degree in biology, a master's degree in counseling and a paralegal certificate.