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Avoiding a Will Contest

A primary goal of estate planning is to protect against the possibility of disagreements among your heirs after you pass away.  However, will contests are becoming increasingly common.

There are many reasons why disagreements can occur over the distribution of your estate.  For example, perhaps you allocated a larger inheritance to one of your children and less to the others.  Or, there could be a pre-existing conflict between your children and a spouse from another marriage.  Sometimes a family member will feel that they should have received inheritance that you allocated to a charity or friend.

Longer lifetimes may also contribute to the increasing occurrence of will contests.  Age-related cognitive issues like Alzheimer’s can factor into a will contest.  For example, an heir could argue that you lacked the mental capacity to make decisions about your estate at the time your will was executed.  Similarly, the influence of a child who acts as your primary caregiver could be contested as giving you undue influence.

In the state of Pennsylvania, including a “no-contest” clause in your will is one way to protect against a will contest.  Including this clause in your estate planning documents indicates that, if an heir does challenge your will but loses, he or she will receive nothing.  This clause is also known as a forfeiture provision or an in terrorem clause.  However, Pennsylvania law dictates that forfeiture will not occur if there was probable cause for the will contest.  While there isn’t a set definition for what constitutes probable cause, it generally means that there is a good reason for why the will should be contested.

The no-contest clause can protect your estate from lawsuits from an heir who is disappointed by his or her inheritance.  Keep in mind that the no-contest provision is only effective if a disfavored heir has something to lose.  For example, if you completely disinherit one of your children, there will be nothing for him or her to forfeit.  With that in mind, if you chose to include a no-contest provision, you might consider allocating sufficient assets to each of your children to ensure that your disfavored heir hesitates before attempting to invalidate your will.

It is important to tell your attorney if you think someone will dispute your will.  In addition to the no-contest clause, your lawyer can help you to determine the best ways to protect your estate from litigation including how to employ strategies that will limit the potential for lack of capacity and undue influence claims.   Together, you can find the best ways to ensure that your loved ones are not faced with litigation after you are gone.

Our estate planning attorneys in Pittsburgh can help protect you and your loved ones from a will contest.  Contact us today to discuss your specific needs and to find out how Fingeret Law can help you.  Please call us at Fingeret Law at 412.281.8222 or contact us online.