Disowning a relative is not a step to be taken lightly. It’s the choice to end your relationship with the relative, often permanently. But not all family relationships are healthy, and in some cases, it’s in an individual’s best interest to disown a toxic relative.
The term disownment does not refer to a legal process, but to the personal choice to choose not to acknowledge a relationship with a specific individual. However, it’s frequently used to refer to the act of renouncing an individual’s inheritance rights – in other words, “writing her out” of a will.
Disowning vs. Terminating a Relationship
Technically, the term disowning simply means terminating a relationship with a loved one. No specific legal action is tied to the concept of disowning a loved one, though a few different actions can sever legal ties between relatives and typically accompany the end of their relationships.
Although divorce is typically thought of as a separate process from disowning a loved one, it’s a type of disowning. Divorce ends the relationship between spouses, and with that, ends both spouses’ right to a share of the other’s financial assets following his death. It also typically ends the relationship each spouse has with the other’s family of origin.
Disowning a sibling, cousin, parents or in-laws is a bit different. No legal requirement exists for adults to maintain relationships with their relatives. If an individual feels his relationship with another adult, including his adult child, is unhealthy, he may simply choose to stop spending time with that person.
Emancipation for Minors
For a minor, the process of disowning her family is known as emancipation. Emancipation essentially renders a teenager a legal adult in most senses, which means she is free to manage her own finances and maintain her own household before she reaches the age of majority. In most of the United States, the age of majority is 18.
The process for becoming emancipated varies from state to state. In some states, it’s a clearly defined process that requires the minor to meet specific criteria to be emancipated. In others, the law is more open-ended, and the court has greater discretion to determine whether it’s in a petitioning minor’s best interest to be emancipated.
Once a minor reaches age 18 or is emancipated, her parents usually have no further legal requirement to support her financially or in any other way. There are exceptions to this, such as divorce orders requiring parents to cover part or all of their adult children’s college expenses and scenarios in which an adult child has significant disabilities that render him unable to live independently.
Revoking a Relative’s Inheritance Rights
The only way you can completely ensure that a relative cannot inherit your assets is to write a will that disinherits her. Although the probate court typically follows a will’s wording and distributes the deceased’s assets accordingly, it’s possible in most states for a relative who is not mentioned in a will to request that the court give her a share of the deceased’s assets. This is to provide a sort of “safety net” for relatives who are accidentally forgotten in the estate-planning process.
To legally disinherit a relative, who may be an adult child, a spouse or any other relative who could potentially receive a share of an individual’s assets under the state’s probate laws, the individual writing the will must explicitly state that no assets are to be left to the disinherited relative. He does not have to state why he is disinheriting the relative; he only has to acknowledge that he intended to leave her out of his will.
Take All Necessary Actions to Protect Yourself
The actions an individual must take to protect herself from a toxic family relationship depend on the actual circumstances she is facing. In some situations, a relationship can be terminated by one party simply telling the other to stop contacting her. In others, physically moving to a new city, state or region is a necessary step to end an unhealthy relationship. Some relationships require additional steps to terminate, such as filing a restraining order.
A restraining order, known as an order of protection in some states, is a court order that prohibits one individual from making any type of contact with another. Additionally, it may require the individual who has been prohibited from making contact to surrender any firearms he owns. When applicable, it may grant the filer temporary full custody of her children. The types of restraining orders available and how to obtain them vary by state.
Lindsay Kramer is a freelance writer and editor who has been working in the legal niche since 2012. Her primary focus areas within this niche are family law and personal injury law. Lindsay works closely with a few legal marketing agencies, providing blog posts, website content and marketing materials to law firms across the United States.