Maria is a 90-year-old working woman who raised four children and some grandchildren as well. She left her humble job as a house cleaner when her husband got sick. She stayed home to take care of him. She also helped raise a grandson, when her son and his wife separated, leaving him with her grandparents. None of her other adult children lifted a finger to help care for her sick father. She passed away at home. Now Maria is fragile and needs daily help. Where are her children?

One son had already taken advantage of Maria, borrowing money that he never paid back. Another took the bank records from him and refused to return them. Maria has memory loss, but she still pays her own bills and keeps track of her money. The grandson she raised has lived with her her entire life. He stepped up and took care of her grandfather. Now her grandson is also taking care of Maria. She has no relief and never receives help from her parents, aunts or uncles.

Maria is very angry with her children and other relatives. During the years that she and her husband had the opportunity, they saved and invested carefully. They had a rental house and a paid primary residence. A son stole the deed to her rental property and sold it without Maria’s permission. The son kept the winnings and refused to give Maria any records. All that Maria has left after decades of working and saving with her husband is the house in which she lives. And her children, greedy for her, expect her to receive her when she dies.

Maria went to a lawyer to change her will and trust. Originally, her assets were to be divided equally among her four children. Maria has memory loss, but she may still have what the law calls “probate capacity.” That is basically, the ability to understand what you have, who you want to give it to after you die, and what are the consequences of doing so. Her lawyer had María examined by a psychologist and the doctor determined that María does have testamentary capacity. In other words, she is clear-headed enough to change her former will and trust.

Maria is changing it to completely disinherit her four children. Upon her passing, she will give her home to her loyal and loving grandson, who never asks for anything from her.

As part of my work at, I sometimes review seniors who want to change a will or trust to do something unusual with it, as a necessary service to their estate planning attorneys. I evaluated Maria. There is absolutely no evidence of fraud in her decision. There is no pressure or “undue influence” on her from her grandson. She has not asked him to give her the house, or money, or anything of value. She is a somewhat naive and innocent person in the picture.

Takeaway food: what NOT to do to avoid being disinherited

If you don’t want your elderly parent to resent you, understand that the elderly parent can do whatever he wants with his assets. No potential heir is automatically entitled to any inheritance simply because they are a relative. There are exceptions when the elder dies without a will.

These horrible things can get you disinherited quickly.

  1. You borrow money and don’t pay it back. They are going to remember this most of the time. Dishonesty probably angers an older adult. Even if they don’t remember the exact amount borrowed, they will remember the feeling that they are being taken advantage of.
  2. Do not bother with taking care of the needs of the elderly. If you never show up, never help, never offer physical, emotional, or financial support to provide care, your aging parent will see that and probably be angry about it, too.
  3. Fool the old man because you can get away with it. Maria’s son sold his rental house and kept the money. Maria is not in a position to sue her son or try to involve the authorities. She can’t afford an elder abuse lawyer. The son got his asset and proceeds. The theft from him had no repercussions when he did it. But he does when it comes to Maria’s will and trust.

None of the four children of Maria will be able to receive anything else from her as an inheritance. She is justifiably angry with all of them. They deserve nothing, she says. She is clear enough in her thinking to be sure what she wants with her will and confidence will get what she wants. Her lawyer is very careful when creating a new estate plan, involving a doctor to determine her testamentary capacity. And he had another attorney review the plan and interview Maria and her grandson to rule out fraud or undue influence. He also videotaped Maria explaining why she is going to disinherit her offspring. Maria is safe and exercises her legal rights. Her grandson will ultimately benefit from being a selfless and caring heir.

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