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What is a no-contest clause, and do I need one?

One of the primary goals people have when creating an estate plan is to keep things as peaceful as possible for the people left behind. Having a will or trust in place is certainly an effective way to achieve this. However, complications and disputes can arise despite your best efforts.

Scorned heirs, estranged loved ones and even charitable organizations may feel as though your wishes are not what they expected and therefore want to challenge your will. You can prevent this action with a no-contest clause. This clause dictates that a person will be disinherited if he or she formally challenges your will.

No-contest clauses can be very effective when you expect some contention after you are gone. You might be leaving one child much less -- or no -- money; you could expect someone to challenge the will no matter what; there may already be bad blood between heirs. 

As discussed in this New York Times article, no-contest clauses have been used in some very high profile estates. However, that doesn't mean that they are strictly reserved for the extraordinarily wealthy. Including them in any will or living trust can be wise. 

The article also examines a few ways to reinforce your efforts to deter lawsuits. For example, if someone is left nothing, he or she has nothing to lose by contesting the will. So, leaving at least some money to potential challengers may be a good idea. Additionally, you can clear up a lot of confusion by discussing your estate plan with your loved ones before the time comes to administer it.

We also want to note that a will can still be invalidated, even if it has a no-contest clause. Further, these clauses could themselves be unenforceable. With this in mind, you will also want to explore other tools for minimizing conflict and legal disputes.

There are numerous legal nuances and tools like no-contest clauses that can strengthen and protect an estate plan. Without a legal background, you probably won't know about many of these, and that can have a detrimental impact on a will or trust you have worked earnestly to create. For this reason, it is important that you consult an attorney when drafting or revising your estate plan.

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