Must I leave something to my spouse and children?
5. Must I leave something to my spouse and children?
Disinheriting spouses. The law protects surviving spouses from being left with nothing. If you live in a community property state (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin -- or Alaska if you have made a written community property agreement), your spouse automatically owns half of all the property and earnings (with a few exceptions) acquired by either of you during your marriage. You can leave your half of the community property, and your separate property, to anyone you choose.
In all other states, a surviving spouse has a legal right to claim a portion of your estate, no matter what your will provides. But these provisions kick in only if your spouse goes to court and claims that share.
If you don't plan to leave at least half of your property to your spouse, either through your will or outside it, you should consult a lawyer -- unless your spouse willingly consents in writing to your plan.
Disinheriting children. Generally, it's perfectly legal to disinherit a child. If, however, it appears that you didn't mean to disinherit a child -- the most common example is a child born after you made your will -- then the child has the right to claim part of your property. For more information, see Inheritance Rights.