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How a no-contest clause can reduce the risk of probate conflicts

On Behalf of | Apr 17, 2024 | Concord Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog |

Every person planning their estate has unique issues to address, but certain concerns are relatively widespread. For example, it is quite common for those with sizable families or significant personal resources to worry about probate conflict after they die. Perhaps a testator knows that two of their children always find an excuse to fight with one another. They can easily imagine their adult children going to probate court and slowing down estate administration because of their interpersonal issues.

Other times, current family dynamics may be solid, but the overall value of the estate might provide an incentive for people to fight after someone dies. Decisions to disinherit one or more family members and or leave resources to charitable causes could also be sources of conflict during estate administration. Some testators choose to protect their legacies by adding a no-contest clause to their estate planning paperwork.

How no-contest clauses function

As people can often surmise from the name, a no-contest clause is language added to a will or trust that prohibits the unnecessary initiation of probate litigation. If a beneficiary contests or challenges the estate plan unsuccessfully, the California probate courts can enforce the no-contest clause. That typically results in someone losing their right to an inheritance, which can be a powerful deterrent.

California, like most other states, does allow for the inclusion of no-contest clauses in wills. However, if the person who files the lawsuit can show that they had probable cause for doing so, then the courts may choose to set aside that clause and allow the party who contested the will to inherit from the estate anyway.

There are other solutions as well. Testators who worry about the impact of family conflict on relationships among their beneficiaries and the legacy they leave behind can use multiple different strategies to reduce the likelihood of conflict after their passing. For example, using a trust to address major resources can be an effective strategy.

Having honest discussions with family members can also help reduce the risk of conflict that may arise after someone’s death. Those who explore all of their options when estate planning can create the most effective documents possible given their wishes and circumstances.