Renouncing a will means giving up an inheritance left to you within a will. But why would anyone want to give up their inheritance? Renunciation may be a tactic used by a spouse who would choose to take a share of an estate provided by state law, known as an elective share, rather than a smaller portion of the estate that may be provided for in the will.
An ‘elective share’ is a legal device that was originally intended for the protection of the wife. In the past, family property was often titled only in the husband’s name. The ‘elective share’ protects a spouse against being “written out” of a spouse’s will, meaning they receive no inheritance.
For instance, a husband might have a couple’s property in his name alone, and write a will leaving all property to his children by a previous marriage, leaving the wife only a $1,000 inheritance. In this case, the wife could file a petition in probate court to renounce the will and take her “elective share” of the estate under state law. In New York, the elective share of an estate is the right to receive the greater of $50,000 or a percentage of the other spouse’s estate. Therefore, the spouse may choose to take that amount of the estate, and renounce the will that left her only $1,000 (assuming there is no prenuptial agreement).
There are other reasons to renounce a will, such as that of unwanted property. If an inheritance carries heavy liabilities or a heavy tax burden, the beneficiary may also choose to renounce the will, thus passing the inherited property to the contingent beneficiary and avoiding inheritance taxes or other liabilities that may come with the property.
If you need assistance with an inheritance, whether it is renouncing a will, receiving advice regarding an elective share or any other issues involving estate planning, consulting with an estate planning attorney is your best course before taking any action.