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Oct. 22, 2022, 4:13 p.m. EDT

My father reportedly left me $1 in his will at my stepmother’s urging. Is it true that I cannot receive anything from his estate?

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By Quentin Fottrell

Dear Quentin,

I have heard that if someone just leaves you $1 in their will, you cannot receive anything from their death. Is this true?

My father passed, several years ago, and my sister eventually sold the house. I just don’t know if it would be worth it to see if I’m entitled to something from the sale of the estate.

I was told years ago by a friend that I was left $1 dollar in his will, and that my father cut me out of his will at the request of my stepmother. How would I go about checking into this?

Desperately Seeking Advice

Dear Desperately,

You don’t have to leave a child $1 in your will to disinherit them. You can do that by simply naming the person and expressing your wish that they do not share in your estate. Estate law varies by state. In California, and some other states, if you don’t mention a child by name it could be interpreted that the testator — the writer of the will — forgot them. 

In fact, leaving $1 can unnecessarily complicate things. “Going this route may even end up costing your estate,” according to this opinion written by Snyder Law , a California-based law firm. The executor will need to write a check. “The executor or trustee will be unable to close out the estate’s checking account until the check is cleared.”

“California law presumes that you intend to provide for your heirs in your estate plan,” Snyder Law adds. “Should you draft an estate plan and simply leave out any mention of them, you run the risk of the court concluding this was done in error. The court may decide to give a portion of your estate to the left out loved one.”

The time to contest a will varies by state: In New York, it’s 12 months unless the claim is based on a will being fraudulent for reasons including an altered signature and/or if attempts had been made to hide or destroy a will. In all likelihood, however, the time for you to contest your father’s will has passed. It is a costly and time-consuming process.

You can obtain a copy of your father’s will from the probate court. If your sister sold the house, your attempt to claim a share of your late father’s estate has likely come far too late. The time to act is when the person dies. It was your father’s estate to divide as he wished. An estate attorney who is not looking to exploit your pain will likely tell you the same.

Learn how to shake up your financial routine at the  Best New Ideas in Money Festival  on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22 in New York. Join Carrie Schwab, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation.

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