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Should California testators add no-contest clauses to their wills?

On Behalf of | Jun 12, 2024 | Estate Planning

The more resources someone aquires during their lifetime, the greater the impact their gifts can have on others after they die. California testators often earmark certain resources for their spouses, children and grandchildren. They may leave some assets for friends or decide they want to contribute toward charitable causes as well.

Ideally, every individual should have control over what happens with their property after they die. The ability to craft a specific legacy can amplify the positive impact someone’s life has on the world. Sadly, the wishes of an individual often become overshadowed by the conflict that arises after they die.

Family members may resent the decision to leave money for charitable organizations. Children and grandchildren may fight over property, especially if a testator leaves unequal inheritances for different people. Sometimes, those who are upset about an inheritance decide to contest the will. Should those planning estates in California add no-contest causes to their wills to deter a risk of litigation?

No-contest clauses can be helpful

A no-contest clause is essentially an addition to a will to prevent family members from suing after someone dies. A no-contest clause can reduce or eliminate an inheritance if someone contests an estate plan.

In California, probate court judges can uphold no-contest clauses after probate litigation. If it appears that a beneficiary of an estate brought a frivolous lawsuit for personal gain, the courts could penalize them by eliminating their inheritance. However, if there was probable cause to challenge the will and the courts believe that someone acted in good faith, they can decline to enforce a no-contest clause. Therefore, no-contest clauses do not universally prevent probate litigation. But, they can serve a key role as part of a broader plan to limit conflict after someone dies.

Testators may want to draft particularly thorough estate planning documents and communicate their wishes to family members. Doing so can help limit the likelihood of someone suing later out of unhappiness regarding their inheritance. Learning about the unique probate rules in California can be beneficial for those creating or updating their estate plans. Testators who worry about family conflicts may need to plan with extra care.