Using a No-Contest Clause to Prevent Heirs from Challenging a Will or Trust

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If you are worried that disappointed heirs could contest your will or trust after you die, one option is to include a "no-contest clause" in your estate planning documents. A no-contest clause provides that if an heir challenges the will or trust and loses, then he or she will get nothing.

A no-contest clause may be a good idea if you have a beneficiary who may be upset by the property distributed to him or her. However, no-contest clauses (also called in terrorem clauses) only work if you are willing to leave something of value to the potentially disgruntled heir. You must leave the individual enough so that a challenge is not worth the risk of losing the inheritance.

Most states allow no-contest clauses, but there may be restrictions. In many states, if the contest is based on probable cause or good faith, then the no-contest clause is unenforceable. That means that if the court determines there is a good reason for the contest, the clause won't prevent the challenging heir from inheriting. In addition, a no-contest clause may apply to some portions of your estate plan, but not others. For example, your heirs may be able to challenge your executors without violating a no-contest clause.

Two states --Florida and Indiana -- will not enforce no-contest clauses no matter what. If you write your will in a state that enforces no-contest clauses and then move to Florida or Indiana, the no-contest clause will be void.

If you include a no-contest clause in your estate plan, you need to be sure there are no mistakes. If you leave out important property or aren't clear about property in your possession, your heirs could be completely disinherited if they try to fix any mistakes.

While a no-contest clause can be a good tool, there are other ways to discourage a will contest.

Topics:  Estate Planning, No Contest Clause

Published In: Wills, Trusts, & Estate Planning Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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