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2 estate planning tools that reduce the risk of a probate contest

On Behalf of | Mar 27, 2023 | Probate Litigation

An individual’s estate plan is a record of their wishes and often serves as a final reflection on the relationships they had with the people closest to them. Sometimes, people planning their estates have to make difficult choices when they have poor relationships with their children or other family members. Some people choose to remove a single individual who may expect to be a beneficiary from their estate.

Other times, testators decide to disinherit an entire generation by skipping it and focusing on grandchildren instead, or they may leave most of their resources to charitable organizations. Some people even start a scholarship fund rather than providing more resources for the family that they have long supported financially. When those who expect to inherit from an estate don’t get what they anticipated, their disappointment sometimes leads to probate court proceedings.

Will contests sometimes arise when people want a larger slice of the estate or they feel entitled to demand an inheritance when they otherwise stand to receive nothing. Even if the contest is unsuccessful and the probate courts uphold someone’s estate plan, the process of going to court will often diminish the value of the estate by using up resources in favor of court costs. Thankfully, the two tools below can potentially help an individual reduce the risk of a will challenge in the wake of their death.

1. A no-contest clause

Even a simple, straightforward will can be a slightly stronger document if someone adds a no-contest clause. Also called a penalty clause or in terrorum clause, the no-contest clause imposes a financial penalty on the act of challenging the estate plan.

If someone contests the will, the New Jersey probate courts will very likely uphold that clause and deny them their inheritance because of their choice to pursue litigation unless there is probable cause supporting their claims. No-contest clauses can have a powerful chilling effect on frivolous litigation.

2. A trust

Especially in scenarios where a testator would like to disinherit specific people or leave resources for people to utilize in a specific manner, a trust is a very beneficial addition to their estate plan. Trusts give someone longer-term control over the use of the resources after they die.

They are also much more difficult for people to challenge in probate court, which is beneficial for those who believe their families may disagree with their wishes. Some people even add no-contest clauses to their trusts, which can further reduce the likelihood of family members dragging their estate through probate court.

Identifying challenges that could undermine someone’s legacy can help them create a more effective estate plan with the assistance of a knowledgeable legal professional.