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By: Pile Law Firm, PLLC

No-Contest Clauses in Wills: Discouraging Estate Disputes

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What Is a No-Contest Clause, and How Can It Help Enforce My Will?

When you set up your Will, you want to ensure that your specific directives are carried out upon your death. However, if you already know that family members might contest your will (and its directives), you could include a “no-contest clause” to prevent or hinder that from happening.

Put, a no-contest clause (aka a terrorem clause) can usually be used in Pennsylvania by you as the testator to hinder or stop any beneficiary or family member from legally contesting all or part of your will. If the no-contest clause is drafted professionally, any beneficiary or heir who contests your Will would forfeit any inheritance, gift, or asset they would otherwise receive.

They can still legally contest your will and its provisions, but they lose all rights to what they would have received if they fail to prove it is, in fact, invalid.

However, let us say a family member is expected to receive a gift or asset, but when the will is read, he receives nothing. In this case, they still might contest the will as they have nothing to lose. This means that a no-contest clause is only valid if you have family members or beneficiaries to whom you want to leave assets; they may think twice before challenging it. Also, note that any Will can be challenged if “probable cause” is legally present, but it must be proven.

Using a no-contest clause can be difficult for you, as it might seem that you expect friction among your surviving family members or favor some of your heirs over others. However, you must remember that this clause is a legal part of your Will that’s meant to avoid conflict, and the best way to decide on its use is to discuss your family situation, assets, etc., in detail with your experienced and empathetic Blue Bell estate lawyer.

When Should I Consider Putting a No-Contest Clause In My Will?

Usually, when a no-contest clause is used in a Will, there is some net worth that the decedent is leaving to his heirs and beneficiaries. These clauses only have a beneficial effect if the recipients might lose out on receiving some distribution if they challenge the Will.

Let’s say you leave a relative $2,000; they feel they should have been left $10,000. In this case, the beneficiary challenging your Will, which includes a no-contest clause, would not get their $2,000 distribution and probably may not be successful with their challenge of the Will.

After reviewing all the important information about the assets, real estate, and other items to be distributed in your Will, your experienced estate planning lawyer will determine whether including a no-contest clause is advisable. We’ll consider if it’s necessary and beneficial for ensuring your wishes are protected and if it will provide substantial assistance in this regard.

Are No-Contest Clauses Enforceable in Pennsylvania?

If one of your heirs questions the validity of your Will or decides to challenge it, resolving the issue can be a lengthy and expensive process, which is something you’d prefer to avoid. This could reduce the assets intended for your family, ultimately hindering the secure future you had envisioned for them. While adding a no-contest clause to discourage challenges may seem like the best choice, it’s not always straightforward.

The decision to include a no-contest clause often depends on the motivations behind the heir’s challenge. By indicating the possibility of disinheriting heirs, you demonstrate your commitment to upholding your wishes and minimizing family conflict. However, it’s essential to recognize that there are situations where a no-contest clause may not be enforceable, despite these considerations.

Section 2521 of the Pennsylvania Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code (Pennsylvania’s state statutes) states that any no-contest clause will not be enforced if whoever is challenging your will has probable cause to do so.

Suppose an heir suspects that someone close to you exerted undue influence over your wishes toward the end of your life. In such a scenario, Pennsylvania Courts might consider this concern valid and may permit an investigation to determine the truth without activating the no-contest clause. Moreover, even if the heir’s concerns are ultimately disproved, they might not be subject to the effects of the no-contest clause if their suspicions were based on probable cause.

Navigating this scenario can be legally complex, and you and your well-versed estate planning lawyer will carefully consider your concerns before deciding whether to include a no-contest clause in your Will.

Can a No-Contest Clause In My Will or Estate Plan Be Effective in Stopping Challenges ?

When you’re putting together your Will or estate plan, it’s tough to make everyone happy. With the way things are in the legal world today, disputes over who gets what after you’re gone can pop up for all sorts of reasons.

Maybe your kids don’t see eye to eye, or you left more to one than the others. It could be that there’s tension between your spouse and children about who gets what. The list of possible conflicts goes on and on, especially now that we’re living longer.

Adding a no-contest clause can be a smart move to shield your estate from unnecessary lawsuits brought by a disgruntled spouse, child, or any other heir.

But here’s the catch: whether a no-contest clause really holds weight depends on whether the heir stands to lose something. It’s a question best answered by your Blue Bell estate planning lawyer. Every Will and estate plan is different—size, assets, maybe you have a business thrown in the mix, and a whole lot more. Only after you’ve gone through all the nitty-gritty details of your unique estate can you and your knowledgeable estate planning lawyer decide if a no-contest clause makes sense for you.

Sure, this clause can discourage challenges to your estate, but the devil’s in the details. Everything about your family, your estate, and, of course, your wishes needs to be crystal clear. That’s the real key.

I Need More Information on Including a No-Contest Clause In My Will; What Should I Do?

When you sit down with your lawyer to talk about your Will or estate plan, be sure to mention if there’s a chance someone might challenge your wishes. After hashing out all the details, you can design the best plan to make sure challenges don’t rear their ugly head.

Adding a no-contest clause is just one of the many approaches to dodge legal battles over your estate.

The savvy estate planning lawyers at Pile Law Firm, PLLC, will really dive into your situation, understanding what’s on the line and what it’ll take to make sure your wishes are crystal clear and hard to dispute. Give us a ring today at (267) 281-1675, and we’ll put in the work to safeguard your family’s future and make sure your wishes are honored to the letter.