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Challenging an estate with a no-contest clause in California

On Behalf of | Jul 30, 2018 | Trustees Executors & Fiduciaries |

There are numerous reasons why you may need to contest a will or estate plan in California. Maybe your parent remarried, and his or her spouse applied a lot of pressure toward having the will changed. Perhaps your loved one made drastic changes to the will in the last weeks of his or her life, during a stage of serious mental decline. There are many valid reasons to question a last will’s contents.

Whatever the reason, it is important to understand that your rights as an heir are somewhat limited under the law. In some cases, bringing a challenge can even affect your ability to inherit anything at all. If the person who passed on included a no-contest clause in one’s will, bringing a challenge in the courts could actually result in losing your inheritance.

Testators include no-contest clauses to avoid probate and family strife

When someone goes through the trouble of creating an estate plan and a last will, the point is usually to prevent unnecessary conflict. After all, if someone created a last will, he or she obviously desires to leave behind a specific legacy.

While you may not agree with the specifics of the last will, it is the testator’s right to decide how to allocate the assets he or she accrued during life. Unfortunately, changes like reducing the inheritance to one child or even leaving money to charity or for pets could result in massive family fallout and a challenge in probate court.

Some people add no-contest clauses to prevent unnecessary challenges to their legacy. These clauses typically include a penalty for anyone who challenges the estate plan or last will. In some cases, the penalty may be a certain amount of money given to charity. In other cases, it could mean reducing someone’s inheritance by a percentage. Sometimes, people go so far as to completely disinherit anybody who challenges their wills.

California law about no-contest clauses is nuanced

Many states have a broad approach to no-contest clauses. Some states, like Florida, simply do not enforce them in court. Other states enforce them across the board. Still others will enforce them unless an heir brings a challenge in good faith or with probable cause.

California has much more nuanced and specific rules in place. While the courts may uphold a no-contest clause, there are cases in which the state considers the clause unenforceable. It will often uphold the clause in the case of a direct challenge without probable cause.

Because of how complex the law is, you should make sure you fully understand how the state’s approach to enforcing these clauses could impact your inheritance before you make any major decisions. Taking action before you understand the consequences could mean losing out on your inheritance.