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Many people believe they understand inheritance rights, but very few (outside of the legal and estate planning professions) actually do. This is because laws regarding inheritance are complex and vary from state to state. Below are the five common myths about inheritance rights that our Wills lawyers debunk:

Myth 1: I can leave my property to whomever I choose.

It’s true that, in your Will, you can leave your property to anyone you choose. However, inheritance rights may override your wishes as stated in your Will. This is particularly true when it comes to a spouse who survives you. Depending on the state in which you reside, a surviving spouse is legally entitled to one third to one half of your property even if you have not provided for him or her in your Will. The spouse would have to contest the Will, but it is likely that a state court will award the percentage of the estate allowed by that state’s inheritance laws.

Myth 2: My surviving spouse will automatically inherit all of my property.

As you can see in the answer to Myth 1, the words “automatically” and “all” are problematic. A surviving spouse does have inheritance rights, but if the spouse is not named in the Will, he or she will have to contest the will to receive an inheritance. This is an important reason to make sure you have a Will. Moreover, if you wanted ydour surviving spouseto inherit your entire estate, you would need to specifically mention this in your will.

Myth 3: My ex-spouse cannot inherit my property.

This is not true if you have an outdated Will that leaves an inheritance to your now-ex-spouse. Be sure to meet with your estate planning attorney whenever you experience a major life event like a divorce, to make sure your will is entirely up-to-date and reflects your current wishes, not those of 10 or 20 years ago.

Myth 4: My children and grandchildren have a right to inherit my property.

The fact is that your children and grandchildren do not have a legal right to inherit your property. To ensure that they will inherit, you must name them as beneficiaries in your Will. Again, make sure your Will is up-to-date; a child or grandchild may have been born after your Will was originally written. Let us assume your will names your older children as beneficiaries but does not mention the younger one(s) who were born or adopted after the Will was written. Most states will allow a child to contest a Will if it appears the child was left out by accident. A probate lawyer will tell you this means the child must go to the expense of time and money to contest the Will.

Myth 5: To disinherit a child, I just leave him or her out of my Will.

Disinheritance is specifically addressed by state laws. Let us say that you have named two children as beneficiaries and do not name a third child. If that child contests the Will, the state will not assume the child is disinherited. To disinherit a child, you must state in your Will that you are not leaving assets to this child. Another method is to leave just a small amount to the disinherited child so it is clear the child was not left out by accident.

Clearly, you need the help of an experienced Chester County estate planning attorney to navigate your state’s inheritance laws. Set up a consultation today to create or review your estate plan.