Florida residents may have heard about the Austrian woman who shredding a little more than $1 million worth of cash and cut up her savings books so her heirs wouldn't inherit. While the Austrian Central Bank reportedly said they will replace the funds if the heirs still have the pieces, the case illustrates some differences under U.S. law about which people should be aware.
As opposed to residents of some European countries, Americans are able to disinherit their children. This is normally done by expressly stating so in a will. Without a will, the proceeds of an estate will pass according to the intestacy laws of the decedent's state. In some states, however, people are not able to completely disinherit their spouse in a will. The only way to do so is through a signed and valid prenuptial agreement or through a divorce. Courts will otherwise provide the spouse with a share of the estate. This is because it is considered to be a matter of public policy to provide for the spouse of someone who dies. People who want to prevent some heirs from collecting may do so through careful estate planning.
An estate planning attorney may help clients determine exactly how and to whom they want their assets to pass. Legal counsel may then recommend a variety of different types of estate planning documents to best help clients meet their needs and goals. Common estate planning documents used to accomplish different purposes include various trusts, living wills, advanced directives and powers of attorney, and counsel can assist in the preparation of the applicable documents that can pass muster in the event of a subsequent challenge.