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Do children have a legal right to an inheritance when their parents die?

On Behalf of | Sep 6, 2023 | Estate Administration And Probate |

If there is one issue that contributes to probate litigation more than others, it might be a sense of entitlement. Individuals ranging from close friends and romantic partners to children sometimes have a profound sense of entitlement regarding a loved one’s assets after their death.

Virginia estate plans tend to provide very clear instructions regarding the distribution of someone’s resources. Whether someone leaves instructions to gift certain assets to particular family members or simply wants their overall estate divided in a specific manner, those instructions, along with Virginia state law, should be the primary guiding factors that determine the outcome of estate administration.

Sadly, when family members or beneficiaries have a sense of entitlement toward estate resources, they might potentially challenge a loved one’s will in the hopes of securing more than the testator allocated to them. Children are among those most likely to feel disappointed by the inheritance that they receive. Do they have a statutory right to receive certain assets from a parent’s estate?

Estate plans take precedence over some state laws

Testators who draft documents can provide very specific instructions about who will inherit what from their estates. Occasionally, people can challenge an estate plan based on the grounds that it violates Virginia state law. Children might assume that if a parent and disinherits them or only leaves them a fraction of what their siblings receive they have a right to ask the probate courts to intervene, but that is not always the case. If someone died without any testamentary documents, then the law does protect the interest that a child has in a parent’s estate. Children and spouses have the highest priority under intestate succession laws.

However, an estate plan or will can provide very different instructions than intestate succession rules and still be valid. When an adult puts together an estate plan, they can choose to completely disinherit their children or to unequally distribute their assets among their closest family members. Children generally cannot challenge such decisions simply because they are unhappy with them. They would need to have evidence of undue influence, fraud or a lack of testamentary capacity if they hope to convince the Virginia probate courts to toss out a will and grant them a specific portion of the estate based on the number of children in the family.

Avoiding probate challenges

Individuals planning to disinherit someone or leave a very unequal inheritance to different children in the family will usually want to communicate those wishes to others so that there isn’t any confusion or surprise when it comes time to review their will and distribute their property. Additionally, learning about the rules that apply during estate administration in Virginia may help those hoping to inherit from an estate and those hoping to control the distribution of their property after they die.