Is it possible to accidentally disinherit my heirs?
Yes. One of the most tragic estate planning mistakes is unintentionally disinheriting an heir. Here are some of the most common ways this unfortunate situation can occur.
One cause of accidental disinheritance may be the simplest: failure to make a will. In this case, property generally passes according to the intestacy laws of the state in which you're "domiciled,"
and these laws vary widely from state to state. For example, if you are married and have children, state intestacy law might leave one-third or one-half of your estate to your spouse and the balance to your children. This may or may not be what you would have wanted.
Making an ineffective or faulty will can also result in misdirected allocations. For example, you may fail to provide for children born after you make your will (this is what happened to Anna Nicole Smith and Heath Ledger). The lesson here is to forgo the do-it-yourself kit and hire an estate planning attorney to draft and execute your will, which should be reviewed every year or two.
Failing to update your will can also result in allocations that are made according to an old will. This can lead to unwanted allocations (for example, the effective disinheritance of children when Mom or Dad remarries and everything passes to the new spouse). Make it a rule to review and update your will periodically, especially after major life events such as marriage, a birth or adoption, divorce, or a death in the family. Also consider updating beneficiary designations (for life insurance policies, retirement accounts, payable on death accounts, etc.) annually. And remember that beneficiary designations trump provisions made in your will.
A fourth cause of accidental disinheritance is what's known as "ademption." This is the failure of a specific bequest made in a will because the property no longer exists in the decedent's estate for some reason. For example, you might leave your car to your son in your will, and then sell or gift it to someone else before you die. A similar situation can occur when a life insurance policy is allowed to lapse (so check your policies and don't forget to make the premium payments).