Are you worried about what will happen to your surviving family members after your death? Maybe in the course of your conversations about your estate plan, you have seen warning signs that your children or other loved ones are not thrilled about your decisions. Or, perhaps you are concerned that one of your family members will be overcome by grief to the point where they cause problems without realizing what they are doing.
If you have such concerns, you may wish to consider adding a no-contest provision to your will. A no-contest provision can help reduce the possibility of your will being challenged after your death.
“In Terrorem” Clauses
A no-contest clause is sometimes known as an “in terrorem” clause. The Latin phrase “in terrorem” translates to “by way of threat.” Put simply, a no-contest provision threatens any heir who files a will contest in an effort to deter fighting between family members after the creator the will dies.
It is common for a no-contest clause to state that any heir who challenges the will forfeits the portion of the decedent’s estate that the heir was set to receive. In some cases, such a clause will drop the challenger’s inheritance down to a nominal amount like $1.
The idea is that if there is a possibility that the heir will get nothing, that heir is more apt to accept the provisions of the will, even he or she is not happy with the decedent’s choices. It is important to understand that a no-contest provision cannot legally prevent an heir from filing a will contest. The clause will only impact what happens afterward.
Important Considerations for No-Contest Clauses
If you are giving thought to a no-contest clause, you should talk to an estate planning lawyer before you make any decisions. For a no-contest provision to work as intended, the amount you intend to leave each of your heirs needs to be large enough to create an incentive. If, for example, you named 15 different beneficiaries, each of whom will inherit $20,000, one of them might be willing to risk $20,000 to try to get more through a will contest. If you only name three heirs, however, with each set to receive $100,000, a no-contest provision may carry much more weight.
Keep in mind that the courts have the authority to set aside an in-terrorem clause if a will contest is filed in good faith. For example, assume you are an heir in your father’s will which has a no-contest clause, but you believe that your father was forced to sign the will under duress or undue influence. You could file the will contest and request that court the invalidate the will. Assuming the court agrees, your father’s previous will would likely be reinstated. Even if that document also had a no-contest clause, the court might consider setting the in-terrorem clause aside because you were acting in the best interest of the estate, not just for yourself.
Call a DuPage County Wills and Trusts Attorney
If you would like to discuss your options regarding a no-contest provision in your will, contact a Wheaton estate planning lawyer. Call 630-665-2500 for a confidential consultation at Stock, Carlson, Oldfield & McGrath LLC today.