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What you should know when disinheriting relatives

Millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people worldwide are celebrating Pride Month along with their supportive friends and family. Too many, however, have become estranged from some family members -- and sometimes from their entire family -- because of who they are.

Many people, for a variety of reasons, create a "logical" family when their biological family has let them down or abandoned them. If this applies to you, creating an estate plan that reflects your wishes is essential. California probate law recognizes biological and marital family ties -- regardless of what those relationships are like.

When you create an estate plan, you can include or exclude ("disinherit") just about anyone you choose, with the exception of your current spouse. Because California is a community property state, you can't completely disinherit a spouse. You don't have to leave anything to parents, siblings or other relatives, however.

If you're on some sort of speaking terms with family members, it may be wise to prepare them for the fact that you aren't leaving them anything in case they're under the impression that they'll be included in your will simply because they're relatives. If you don't, they could potentially contest the will.

You can minimize the chances of a legal contest after you're gone and the stress this could cause for your spouse or significant other. For example, a living trust, unlike a will, doesn't have to be made public. Therefore, you reduce the chances that people who aren't included in it can see it, and it's more difficult to challenge than a will. You may want to have a "no contest" clause. Your estate planning attorney can help you decide whether that's necessary or even advisable in your particular case.

One way to help prevent relatives from contesting your estate plan is to show that you've put considerable thought into the provisions in your estate planning documents and that the decisions you've made are yours alone and not influenced by other people. You may want to consider including some language explaining why family members aren't included. Remember that this is your estate plan, and you have the right to include -- or exclude -- just about anyone you choose.

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