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How to prevent family from contesting your will

On Behalf of | May 30, 2023 | Estate Administration & Probate |

No one likes to be left out of a will, yet there are many valid reasons for a testator to do so, including distrust or estrangement. Your estate might be set back thousands of dollars and years of probate if an interested party chooses to contest your will after you pass away. Making your will difficult to contest is one approach to ensure that your final wishes are carried out as you intend.

Who can contest a will?

California limits the right to dispute a will to a small group of people known as interested parties. They are:

  • Any beneficiaries named in the trust or will
  • A decedent’s surviving heirs, according to California’s laws of succession
  • Creditors to whom the decedent owes money

Petitioners must have a legitimate reason to contest a will during the probate process. Being left out or disagreeing is not enough. They would need to demonstrate fraud or violations, or that the testator was mentally incompetent at the time.

Steps for an ironclad will

  1. Add a no-contest clause

Family disputes over inheritance during probate are common. A no-contest clause, often known as an “in terrorem” clause, seeks to avoid this by penalizing beneficiaries. If a beneficiary contests a will and loses, they could stand to lose all that they were meant to inherit.

The beneficiaries of a will with a no-contest provision should ideally get a sizable inheritance. This way, you can reduce their desire to oppose your will.

  1. Get a doctor’s evaluation

A typical reason for contesting a will is that the testator lacked mental capacity when they signed it. You may prevent this by getting an in-depth examination from a medical professional, most likely a psychiatrist or psychologist. The time to accomplish it should align with the will-writing process.

  1. Write a letter of intent

By drafting a letter of intent to your executor, you may ensure that anyone you leave out of your will or who is getting a smaller portion of the estate understands your intentions. Avoid confusion by being as specific as possible and asking your attorney to review the letter before finalizing it. Keep this letter safe with your will.

Writing a vague will allows for uncertainty and almost always leads to arguments. In addition, the longer the probate process runs, the less your heirs may receive. To make your will irreversible, consider spending time to familiarize yourself with the many estate planning strategies available.