Laurel, MD asked in Estate Planning for Maryland

Q: How do you phrase a will to prevent unknown heirs from applying for inheritance?

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1 Lawyer Answer
Mark Oakley
Mark Oakley
  • Estate Planning Lawyer
  • Rockville, MD
  • Licensed in Maryland

A: Anyone not named in a Will gets nothing if your will specifically names those whom you want to receive your estate. The only exception is the statutory right of a surviving spouse (married at time of death) to elect one-third of your estate regardless of what your will says. If you are concerned about one of your named beneficiaries dying before you, and you do not want their share going to their children or heirs, or to a specific child of theirs, then you need to word your will properly to provide for any such scenario. In some cases, like deliberately not leaving a share to one of your children, a provision stating that you are deliberately not leaving anything to that child will clarify that their omission is not a mistake but a thoughtful decision. You can choose to include your reasoning, if you want to clarify that their omission is not for lack of love for them (e.g., they are financially well off and their siblings are in greater need). You may also seek to deter your heirs from challenging your estate disposition by adding a provision that any heir or legatee who contests your will shall forfeit any right to receive any distribution from your estate. This is known as an “in terrorem” clause. Wills are among the more basic and important documents everyone needs, and the cost to prepare one properly is generally fairly modest, so you should use a lawyer to do it right so as to avoid common drafting errors that can have completely unintended consequences. Mistakes cannot be corrected after you die.

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