In most cases, people are happy to receive whatever is bequeathed to them in a will. Whether that is a family home, vacation property or personal keepsakes to help them remember a loved one, they are willing to accept the inheritance according to the wishes of the decedent. While that is the most common result, there are exceptions.

Why people refuse

A person might not want an inheritance for several reasons. The decision is often a financial one. Property or property interests can come with fees and needed maintenance. The costs can outweigh the value of the property. For something like a timeshare interest, it may be a matter of escaping onerous contract requirements tied to something you have no interest in.  In those cases, unless some sentimentality convinces the person to accept the property, they may prefer to avoid taking responsibility.

Another common reason is that accepting one asset can cost a person more in lost benefits. As the price of health care and private health insurance rises, the ability to qualify for Medicaid carries more value. If an inheritance is the difference between qualifying or not, it may be wise to refuse. Similarly, an inheritance can cost a person eligibility for student financial aid. If the value of that aid exceeds the value of the inheritance, it makes financial sense to turn it down. Finally, an additional estate can cause a person to incur substantial tax liability, if they are at or near the threshold to pay federal estate taxes. 

How to say no

The process of refusing a bequest is outlined under state law. In New York, disclaiming an inheritance must be done in writing, and within a certain time frame. There are situations where it is impossible to disclaim an inheritance. It is important to consult an experienced attorney to make sure you are following the correct procedure.