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Can You Turn Down an Inheritance?


For many people, an inheritance is a mixed blessing. Obviously, nobody wants to lose a family member, but it is still gratifying to learn you are entitled to receive part of their estate. On the other hand, you may simply not want the inheritance. Perhaps you were not particularly close to the deceased family member, or you have other financial or legal reasons for saying no. This begs the question, “Can you legally turn down an inheritance?”

The answer is yes, of course you can. Although a person’s will or Florida probate law may determine who is legally entitled to receive an estate, neither may compel a recipient to accept. Typically, an heir or beneficiary who wishes to turn down an inheritance does so by filing a legal document known as a “disclaimer” with the court. A disclaimer must be in writing and signed, declare that it is in fact a disclaimer, describe the property or interest being disclaimed, and witnessed in the same manner as required for real estate deeds in Florida.

Unless the disclaimer states otherwise, it is considered “unconditional.” This means a beneficiary or heir may make a partial disclaimer–i.e., reject just part of the inheritance. But even where there are conditions attached to the disclaimer, the document still becomes final and “irrevocable” once those conditions are satisfied.

Court: Lack of Real Property Description Did Not Invalidate Disclaimer

A recent Florida appeals court decision, [Lee v. Lee], offers a useful illustration on how disclaimers work. This case involves a person who died without leaving a will, or what is known as “intestate” under Florida probate law. By law the decedent’s three children would equally inherit the estate as his heirs. One child was also named as personal representative of the estate.

A second child decided to disclaim her interest in the estate. She signed a document, prepared by the personal representative’s attorney, stating that she “irrevocably disclaim[ed] all right, title, and interest” in “All Estate assets.” The personal representative subsequently filed this disclaimer with the court, but more than a year later, the disclaiming sibling filed an objection in which she now argued her disclaimer “was deficient” and should not be enforced.

The probate court agreed the disclaimer was invalid. Specifically, the court determined that Florida law requires a disclaimer “specifically identify the real property being disclaimed.” (The estate’s assets included a home in Miami.) This violated not only the disclaimer law but also Florida’s statute of frauds, the judge said.

However, the personal representative appealed the judge’s ruling, and the Florida Third District Court of Appeal held the disclaimer was valid. The appeals court explained that a written description of real property is only necessary when recording the disclaimer with a local land records office. But “a non-recorded disclaimer is valid as between the disclaimant and the person to whom the property passes by reason of the disclaimer, regardless of whether the disclaimer includes a description of the real property.”

Speak with a Florida Estate & Probate Administration Lawyer Today

The decision to disclaim an inheritance is not one that should be made lightly. And if you are the personal representative administering the estate, you need to make sure any disclaimer strictly complies with Florida law. If you need advice or assistance from an experienced Fort Myers estate probate lawyer, contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 today to schedule a free initial consultation.


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