Your estate plan helps you support your loved ones after you die and leave something meaningful for different people. You may have invested a lot of time and consideration to find the right way to split your property fairly or to earmark specific family heirlooms for particular people.
Unfortunately, your carefully considered legacy could end up thrown out by the courts if one of your family members challenges your last wishes. Typically, people need grounds to contest an estate plan, but there are certainly people who will exaggerate or lie if they think they could inherit more from an estate.
Adding a no-contest clause is one way that testators prevent family members from unnecessarily dragging their estate plans through probate court. Should you think about adding a no-contest clause to your California estate plan?
How a no-contest clause helps
When you add a no-contest clause to your will, you create a legal penalty if your family members bring a frivolous challenge against your estate. The courts can strip the inheritance of someone whose actions trigger the no-contest clause in an estate plan. If your family members realize that they could lose their inheritance entirely by seeking more than their fair share, they may think twice before initiating a challenge against your written wishes.
Will California enforce a no-contest clause?
Every state has different probate rules regarding no-contest clauses. In California, the courts will usually enforce a no-contest clause when it is clear that a challenge was frivolous or unnecessary. However, state law does not allow the courts to enforce no-contest clauses against those who bring a challenge due to having probable cause.
If there is some kind of evidence of misconduct, the courts may allow a family member to bring a challenge because they do so in good faith to uphold your wishes. Without probable cause, a probate challenge against your plan could lead to someone losing their inheritance if you include a no-contest clause.
Talking with your loved ones about your estate plan can be as important as including the right terms. When people know what to expect, they are less likely to react poorly during the probate process.
Thinking ahead can help you create an estate plan that will hold up in court and have a meaningful impact on the people you love.