Does a “no-contest” clause mean you can’t challenge a will?

On Behalf of | Dec 23, 2019 | Firm News |

Most of the time, a will is considered definitive proof of a decedent’s last wishes — except when it isn’t. While rare, challenges to a will do sometimes happen, often because an heir thinks the will may be forged, might reflect another party’s wishes more than the deceased’s, or reflects a mind that was disordered by an illness like dementia.

But what happens when the will has a “no-contest” clause in it? No contest clauses essentially offer the named beneficiaries of a will an “all-or-nothing” choice: They can take whatever the will offers them and go away quietly without dispute or they can try to dispute the will and risk ending up with nothing. Usually, the no-contest clause is combined with just enough of a financial incentive to make the heir think twice about risking it all. It’s an effective way of mostly disinheriting someone who expected to benefit from the will without necessarily leaving them unmentioned.

However, a no-contest clause isn’t necessarily a barrier if you believe that a will should be contested. Courts often realize that such clauses put an heir who genuinely believes that a will doesn’t reflect the testator’s true wishes at a disadvantage. As long as the heir has a valid reason to believe the will should be challenged, the court may refuse to enforce the clause.

There are many different good reasons to contest a will — including things like duplicate wills with contrasting terms, improperly executed wills and the mental incapacity of the deceased at the time the will was signed. If you’re uncertain about your legal options and are worried about the effect of a no-contest clause in a will on your future, find out how our office may be able to help you. We can handle all types of complex estate disputes.