When you think about probate court litigation, you may picture people fighting viciously over the property of a dead family member because they didn’t leave a will. Large estates are notorious for damaging family relationships and leading to protracted, bitter probate litigation.
In fact, even moderate assets, like a motor vehicle, could lead to people fighting intensely over someone’s estate plan. Although you may have clear intentions for what happens to your property when you die, your loved ones may have different expectations.
For example, if you don’t split your estate among your children but also leave money to friends or charitable causes, the beneficiaries of your estate might eventually challenge your choices in probate court. Some testators choose to add a special clause to their wills or trusts to reduce the likelihood of a probate contest.
A no-contest clause can deter challenges
Everyone in your family will suffer the ill effects of unnecessary probate litigation. The costs may eat through a significant amount of what you left behind when you died. However, some people are willing to gamble their inheritance on the possibility of receiving even more from the estate.
Some people try to deter people from bringing unnecessary and frivolous challenges against their last wishes by including no-contest clauses in their wills. Also called an in terrorem clause, the no-contest clause imposes a penalty on anyone who would contest your final wishes in probate court.
Most testators leave directions to disinherit someone who initiates probate litigation related to their estate plan in their no-contest clause. When family members know that they will lose their inheritance entirely for bringing a challenge in probate court, they may more readily accept their inheritance in good grace instead of fighting for even more.
Other common ways people deter challenges
Some people, like those with a child struggling with addiction, may have more reason to worry about a probate challenge than others. These individuals can employ multiple tools to reduce the likelihood of probate litigation reducing what they leave for others.
Using a trust instead of a simple will can be a way to make challenging an estate plan more difficult. Talking with family members can give them time to come to terms with someone’s legacy wishes instead of them experiencing disappointment and anger during a state administration. Frequently reviewing and updating an estate plan can also reduce the likelihood of someone claiming it was outdated or inaccurate.
Addressing issues that might complicate your legacy will help you create a thorough and effective estate plan.