Legal Rights of a Disinherited Child: A Practical Legal Guide

If you are a child who has been left out of your parent’s will, you may be wondering what your legal rights are.

Being disinherited can be a painful and shocking experience, especially if you had a close relationship with your parent or expected to receive a share of their estate.

In this article, I will explain the legal rights of a disinherited child and how to deal with being disinherited.

What Are the Legal Rights of a Disinherited Child?

The legal rights of a disinherited child depend on several factors, such as the state laws where the parent lived and died, the reason for the disinheritance, and the validity of the will or trust.

In general, there are two ways that a child can be disinherited.

  • Intentionally

The parent explicitly states in their will or trust that they do not want to leave anything to the child or that they revoke any previous gifts or bequests to the child.

  • Unintentionally

The parent does not mention the child in their will or trust, or the child is born or adopted after the will or trust is made and the parent does not update it.

An image to illustrate "Legal Rights of a Disinherited Child"
Have you been left out of your parent’s will? Find out what your legal rights are as a disinherited child and how to cope with this situation | PHOTO: Freepik

In most states, it is legal to disinherit a child for any reason or no reason at all.

However, some states have laws that protect children from being completely disinherited.

These laws are called “forced heirship laws” and they require parents to leave a minimum portion of their estate to their children, regardless of their wishes.

The amount of the forced share varies by state and may depend on the number and age of the children, the size of the estate, and the marital status of the parent.

Even if a child is legally disinherited, they may still have some rights to challenge the will or trust in court.

Some of the common grounds for contesting a will or trust are:

  • Lack of capacity

The parent did not have the mental ability to understand what they were doing when they made or changed their will or trust.

  • Undue influence

Parent was pressured, coerced, or manipulated by someone else to disinherit the child against their true wishes.

  • Fraud

The parent was deceived or tricked into signing a document that they did not intend to sign or that had different terms than what they agreed to.

  • Forgery

The parent’s signature on the will or trust was faked by someone else without their knowledge or consent.

  • Mistake

The parent made an error in drafting or executing their will or trust that resulted in unintentionally disinheriting the child.

If a child can prove any of these grounds in court, they may be able to invalidate the will or trust and claim their rightful inheritance.

However, contesting a will or trust can be costly, time-consuming, and emotionally draining.

It can also cause more conflict and resentment among family members.

Therefore, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of pursuing legal action before deciding to do so.

Is It Legal to Disinherit a Child?

As mentioned above, it is generally legal to disinherit a child in most states, unless there are forced heirship laws that prevent it.

However, there are some exceptions and limitations to this rule.

One exception is that parents cannot disinherit minor children (usually under age 18) who are still dependent on them for support.

Minor children have a right to receive financial assistance from their parents until they reach adulthood or emancipation.

Therefore, parents must provide for their minor children’s needs in their will or trust, or through other means such as life insurance, trusts, or guardianship arrangements.

Another exception is that parents cannot disinherit children who have special needs or disabilities that prevent them from being self-supporting.

These children may qualify for government benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid, but these benefits are often insufficient to cover their living expenses and medical care.

Therefore, parents have a moral and legal obligation to provide for their disabled children’s future needs in their estate plan.

One way to do this is by creating a special needs trust that can supplement the child’s benefits without jeopardizing their eligibility.

A limitation to disinheritance is that parents cannot use it as a way to avoid paying debts or taxes.

If a parent dies owing money to creditors or tax authorities, their estate must pay those debts before distributing any assets to the beneficiaries.

This means that if a parent disinherits a child but leaves them as a co-signer on a loan or a joint owner of a property, the child may still be liable for paying off those obligations after the parent’s death.

Can a Parent Disinherit a Child?

The answer to this question depends on whether the parent has a valid will or trust that expresses their intention to disinherit the child.

If they do, then they can usually disinherit the child unless there are state laws that prohibit it or there are grounds for contesting it.

In the case they don’t, then they cannot disinherit the child by default.

If a parent dies without a will or trust (called “intestate”), their estate will be distributed according to the state’s intestacy laws.

These laws vary by state, but they generally follow a hierarchy of heirs based on their relationship to the deceased.

Typically, the spouse and children are the first in line to inherit, followed by other relatives such as parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.

If there are no living relatives, the estate may go to the state.

Therefore, if a parent wants to disinherit a child, they must make a will or trust that clearly states their wishes and complies with the legal requirements for validity.

They must also update their will or trust whenever there are changes in their family situation, such as marriage, divorce, birth, adoption, death, etc.

Otherwise, they may unintentionally disinherit or include someone they did not intend to.

How Do You Deal with Being Disinherited?

Being disinherited can be a devastating and traumatic experience that can affect your emotional and financial well-being.

It can also damage your relationships with other family members and cause you to question your self-worth and identity.

An image to illustrate "Is It Legal to Disinherit a Child"
Disinheritance can be a devastating and traumatic experience for a child | PHOTO: Freepik

Here are some tips on how to cope with being disinherited.

  • Seek professional help

If you are feeling depressed, angry, hurt, or confused by being disinherited, you may benefit from talking to a therapist or counselor who can help you process your emotions and heal your wounds.

You may also need legal advice from an attorney who can explain your rights and options regarding the estate.

  • Communicate with your family

If possible, try to communicate with the parent who disinherited you or their executor to understand the reasons behind their decision.

You may be able to clear up any misunderstandings or miscommunications that led to the disinheritance.

You may also want to reach out to other family members who support you and can offer you comfort and guidance.

However, avoid engaging in arguments or conflicts with family members who disagree with you or blame you for the disinheritance.

  • Focus on yourself

Being disinherited does not define who you are or what you are worth.

You have your own talents, achievements, and goals that make you unique and valuable.

Try to focus on your strengths and passions and pursue activities that bring you joy and fulfillment.

Seek new opportunities for personal growth and development, such as education, career, hobbies, travel, etc.

  • Build your own legacy

Being disinherited does not mean that you cannot leave a positive impact on the world or create your own legacy.

You can still make a difference in your community.

Is Disinherited Disowned?

Disinheritance and disownment are two different concepts that may or may not overlap.

Disinheritance means that someone is excluded from receiving any assets from another person’s estate after they die.

Disownment means that someone is rejected or renounced by another person as a family member or relative.

Disinheritance does not necessarily imply disownment.

A parent may disinherit a child for various reasons, such as financial need, prior gifts, estrangement, etc., but still acknowledge them as their child and maintain some contact with them.

Conversely, disownment does not necessarily imply disinheritance.

A parent may disown a child for various reasons, such as behavior, lifestyle, conflict, etc., but still leave them something in their will or trust out of obligation or guilt.

However, in some cases, disinheritance and disownment may go hand in hand.

A parent may disinherit and disown a child as a way of expressing their anger, resentment, or disappointment towards them.

They may also do so as a way of cutting off all ties and communication with them.

This can be a very harsh and hurtful action that can have lasting consequences for both parties.


Being disinherited by a parent can inflict profound pain and a sense of disbelief, profoundly affecting both your emotional equilibrium and your financial stability.

Nonetheless, it’s essential to recognize that being disinherited doesn’t equate to a forfeiture of your legal entitlements or avenues concerning the estate.

In circumstances where valid grounds exist, you hold the potential to contest the will or trust through legal channels, such as the court system.

Navigating the aftermath of disinheritance might involve seeking professional guidance, fostering open communication within your family circle, directing your focus inward, and constructing a personal legacy that resonates with your aspirations.

For parents contemplating the act of disinheriting a child, a comprehensive comprehension of the legal ramifications and subsequent consequences is imperative.

Equally crucial is the consideration of the emotional reverberations that your decision could trigger within your child and extended family.