Are no-contest clauses really effective in deterring will contests?

On Behalf of | Aug 18, 2023 | Estate Planning |

Setting aside time and resources to create a will is one of the most important steps you can ever take. This is supposed to be the last word regarding how you would wish to have your property distributed when you die. But will contests are not uncommon. 

If you are concerned that one or some of your beneficiaries might dispute your will, you may consider including a no-contest clause. But what exactly is a no-contest clause and how does it work?

Understanding a no-contest clause

At the very basic, a no-contest clause bars beneficiaries from challenging a will by stipulating that should they do so, they will inherit nothing. California probate law recognizes no-contest clauses in wills and other estate planning tools like trusts. Thus, if deemed valid, the probate court will enforce it. Generally, no contest clauses are enforceable when a beneficiary disputes a will without probable cause

A no-contest clause does not automatically disinherit a beneficiary who chooses to ask questions. In fact, there are times when the no-contest clause itself can be contested. For instance, a beneficiary may challenge the no-contest clause on any of the following grounds: fraud, duress, forgery, lack of capacity, menace, revocation or improper execution.

Also, keep in mind that California is a community property state. This means that you cannot create a no-contest clause that serves to bar your spouse from accessing their legal portion of the estate. 

A will is one of the most sensitive documents you can ever sign. Unfortunately, you cannot please everyone. To deter disgruntled beneficiaries from challenging your will without probable cause, you may consider incorporating a no-contest clause in this important legal document.