Have you ever noticed how a death in the family often leads to squabbles and even strained relationships? Most often, money and other assets lie at the center of these arguments, especially when inheritance seems unequally distributed or otherwise suspect. Sibling rivalries, estranged family members, and valuable or complicated estates can all complicate matters. Worst case scenario: an ugly legal battle ensues, dragging out the estate process, causing family drama, and racking up legal fees. Thankfully, a simple no-contest clause in your will can now help avoid ugly inheritance battles after you’re gone.
What is a no-contest clause?
A no-contest clause is a statement added to your will which, in its simplest form, says this: if anyone challenges your will in court and loses, they also forfeit their rights to their share of inheritance. Here’s an example: let’s say two elderly parents pass away, leaving behind three adult children. Their will specified leaving two of the children $50K each, but due to a history of irresponsible spending, the third child stands to only inherit $10K. Angry about not getting as much as the other siblings, the third child files a court case to contest the will and claim their fair share. If the will included a no-contest clause and the court challenge loses, that beneficiary would most likely lose his or her rights to the stated $10K inheritance.
Pros and cons
On the bright side, including a no-contest clause can deter someone from contesting your will. Some benefits include:
- Ensuring your final wishes are fulfilled just as you specified
- Bringing the family closure faster
- Protecting your inheritance from being dwindled by court costs
- Lessening the chances of family arguments
- Wrapping up your estate with fewer hassles
- Avoiding potential litigation fees
While a no-contest clause can deter a disgruntled family member from challenging your will, it does not 100% protect your will from ever being contested. An angry beneficiary can still take your will to court, even at the risk of losing their inheritance. Also, the no-contest clause doesn’t stop someone with zero inheritance from challenging your legacy, since they have nothing to lose in the first place.
Exceptions to the no-contest clause
Indiana law leaves some wiggle room for contesting a will without activating the no-contest clause. If it’s determined that the will was signed under fishy circumstances (like duress, undue influence, or fraud, for example), then the no-contest clause does not apply due to what’s known as “good cause.”
Also, beneficiaries can ask the court about a possible contesting without the no-contest clause going into effect. In other words, family members may take a will to court for clarification and interpretation without risking their inheritance. And like most cases, a will contest can be settled out of court, with the extra benefit of not triggering the no-contest clause.
While you can’t control everything that happens after you’re gone, there are some steps you can take to ensure your family accepts your final decisions. First, meet with an experienced estate attorney to get your wishes in writing. Then, review your plan yearly to keep it updated. And, talk to your family about your will. No need to get specific with numbers, but let your loved ones know ahead of time about your plans. If you intend to give a portion of your estate to charity or unequally divide the inheritance in some way, telling your family ahead of time may help them better prepare for what’s to come.
Still wondering if you should have a no-contest clause in your will? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to that question. Each family dynamic and situation is unique and brings its own challenges. That’s why it’s important to sit down with an attorney when planning your estate, will, or trust. If you have questions about the best way to protect your legacy, contact Cecelia Neihouser Harper at 765-637-9175.
The content of this blog is intended to be general and informational in nature. It is advertising material and is not intended to be, nor is it, legal advice to or for any particular person, case, or circumstance. Each situation is different, and you should consult an attorney if you have any questions about your situation.