Creating a legally sound estate plan is one of the best ways to secure your legacy. After you die, your assets will end up distributed in a manner that reflects your wishes, from outlining who receives precious personal assets to allocating certain funds for charity. Sadly, it is relatively common for people to contest your last will or estate plan, especially if you have built up significant assets during your life.
Children, spouses and other family members are generally the people most likely to contest the contents of your will. Instead of focusing on what you wanted or intended, these individuals may simply consider what they expected or wanted from your estate. You can take steps during estate planning to reduce the incentive for your heirs to contest your will.
Discuss your plans openly with all of your potential heirs
Typically, you want to ensure that your spouse and children, as well as anyone else with a reasonable expectation of inheriting part of your estate, knows what you intend. That can sometimes prove to be a difficult discussion, but it can reduce the risk of your estate getting dragged through probate court.
While the conversation may be uncomfortable, it is particularly important if you have had to remove someone from your estate or disinherit someone in your immediate family. There are many reasons why you might make such a choice, ranging from gambling, or drug or alcohol abuse, to criminal behavior or abuse of a spouse, sibling or you. If you simply cannot handle the discussion, you may elect to have the person in question properly served with paperwork advising the individual of your decision.
Consider adding a no-contest clause and outlining your reasons for it
One popular tool used by many in their last wills, trusts and estate plans is the no-contest clause. This is basically the addition of language to your will that penalizes or wholly disinherits anyone who attempts to contest your wishes in probate court. If your family knows about this clause in your will, this could prevent a contest from ever happening.
Some people will still choose to contest your will, hoping for more than you wanted to allocate to that individual. Thankfully, New Jersey courts typically uphold no contest clauses unless the contest of your estate is based on probable cause. If that person has evidence of undue influence, abuse or other factors, the courts may invalidate the clause. If they simply want to receive a larger portion of your estate, however, they could find themselves cut out of the will entirely.
Many times, those planning a will know ahead of time which family member or heir could contest the will. It may be a good idea to include a notarized letter with your will or a clause in the actual estate plan that explains why you’ve reduced or eliminated one person’s share of your assets. That can help inform the courts of your real intentions and counteract potential lies or misrepresentations from your heirs.