Several news sources in December covered the revelation about David Cassidy’s will: he disinherited his daughter. When I saw this story about David Cassidy, two things jumped out. What his family might have wanted to be a private issue is now public, not only in the county where he lived, but published and pushed and tweeted for all to see. Also, jurisdictions vary on how to disinherit an adult child. Leaving the former issue to discuss later, let’s cover disinheritance in Florida in this post.
No law in Florida requires a parent to leave anything to adult children. Adult children are not entitled to inherit anything. However, if the parent does not have a will, all children will share in that parent’s estate if the parent is either not married at the time of death or is married to someone other than the child’s other parent. The only way Cassidy was able to make his choices happen was to have a will.
Wills might contain various language to make clear the child was not left out by mistake; this is often helpful. However, rarely should a reason be given as this could lead to bigger conflict. That can be handled in a separate writing, such as in a letter directly to the child. Leaving someone a very small amount, such as $1.00, can also lead to problems. This, like all estate planning, should be the sort of issues you discuss with your attorney.
Many reasons exist why a parent might or might not want assets to go to all of the children. Of course, this could be due to broken relationships. But sometimes the child has other means of support. Sometimes a parent has made gifts to the child during lifetime and provided for the child in that way. Perhaps a parent wants to protect a child who has a substance abuse issue or creditor problems. These latter issues could better be handled using trust language instead of deciding to disinherit the child. Again, your attorney should be able to review all of these points with you.
In Cassidy’s case, some seem to believe he and his daughter had begun to reconcile. It is certainly possible that in those final weeks or months, that reconciliation occurred. We do not know if he changed his mind about his estate. The risk here is in any planning: when life and relationships change, you should revisit your estate plan to make sure it still reflects your wishes.
Additionally, be aware if you have previously promised to provide for the child. If you’ve contracted to provide for a child, whether a minor or an adult child, you are bound by that previous contract. Disinheriting otherwise through a will would only lead to headaches for your personal representative.
Finally, unlike some other states, Florida does not recognize a "no contest" clause. Thus, you cannot put in your will that if someone challenges it and loses that challenge, they automatically lose anything else they were left. This is even more of a reason to make sure your will reflects your wishes and follows the laws in Florida.
However you want to have your property distributed after your death is a personal decision. An estate planning attorney's role is to help guide you through the process and help you understand how different tools might better achieve your goals.
*Lyrics of I Think I Loved You composed by Tony Romeo, 1970, performed by The Partridge Family, notably David Cassidy & Shirley Jones.
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