For some testators, it is necessary to take steps to protect a will from being contested by greedy relatives. Individuals with large estates or large families often have problems with one or more relatives feeling that they are entitled to more than their share listed in the will. Once a testator passes away and a will is submitted for probate, anyone who has a stake in the will and feels short-changed may choose to contest the will. Because the testator is deceased, s/he cannot personally defend the wishes described in the will. In these cases, it is important to include protections in the will that discourage relatives or other interested individuals from contesting it.
The Power of the No-Contest Clause
The no-contest clause is a clever and powerful protection that can be used to intimidate would-be challengers. In fact, the formal name for a no-contest clause is an in terrorem clause, which is Latin for "in order to frighten". In many states, an individual can include a no-contest clause in a will to protect it from being challenged after s/he passes away. The clause states that, if an individual contests the terms of the will, s/he gives up his or her right to the inheritance listed in the will. This can be a major deterrent against challenges because, if the relative loses the contest, s/he will receive nothing from the estate at all.
Properly Employing the In Terrorem Clause
No-contest clauses are especially useful if you have contentious relatives that you would rather leave out of your will. For example, perhaps you and a relative have become estranged over the years, or you have a greedy son-in-law or other relative who you feel may try to take advantage of your estate after you are gone. Instead of leaving the relative a "fair" share, you can leave them a minimal inheritance that is not as large as that given to your other beneficiaries, but not so small that s/he has nothing to lose by contesting it. By leaving him or her a small share and including a no-contest clause, you discourage the relative from risking his or her inheritance by challenging the will.
When employed properly, the no-contest clause can be a powerful deterrent against challenges to your will. If you believe that your will may be controversial among your family, it may be in your best interest to consult a probate lawyer about the possibility of including an in terrorem clause. Your lawyer can help to ensure that your wishes are protected and will work with you to minimize the chances that a beneficiary will contest the terms of your will.
For More Information
To learn more about no-contest clauses and other ways to protect your will from controversy, please visit the website of the Austin probate lawyers of Slater Kennon & Jameson, LLP today.
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