Even close families may fight over a loved one’s estate. The worst emotions come out at stressful times, especially when money or cherished family heirlooms come into play. For example, when Fred R. passed away last year, he left behind a tidy nest egg and some luxuries gained from years of hard work. He intended his assets to go to his family members. Well, not all of them. There were a few people who were surprised to learn Fred had left them out of his Will, including his youngest son. The ensuing family feud was epic, but could have been avoided had Fred known how to avoid a Will contest.
The No-Contest Clause
Maybe this should really be called the “No-Fighting Clause.” This language is added to a Will to prevent a Will contest.
What a no-contest clause means is that any person who fights the Will in court is prevents from inheriting from the estate. Note that the person must be inheriting something to be able to lose it. In other words, someone who wants to disinherit a family member should mention that person by name, then give them a small token. The specific mention lets everyone know that the testator didn’t just forget about them. The small inheritance may discourage contentious family members from suing.
In Fred’s case, the website he used to draft his Will failed to suggest he use a no-contest clause. Had Fred used an experienced Virginia estate planning attorney, the result might have been different.
Communication is Key
Talking about estate plans with family is usually difficult. It’s especially hard if people disagree with the terms of a Will or trust. However, it is important to prepare your heirs for anything that might be misinterpreted or disturbing after you are gone.
For example, Fred disinherited his youngest son in his most recent DIY Will. The reason he did this is because he had already given his youngest son more financial help than his other children combined. He wanted to even things out to be fair to the other kids. His youngest son didn’t see it that way and challenged the Will in court. Estate assets that could have passed to the heirs were instead used to pay court costs and legal fees.
Trusts – a Different Solution
In general, trusts are less likely to be contested than Wills. This doesn’t mean it never happens, just that it happens less often. Using a trust to pass an inheritance to your family may be a better option for you, especially if your Will excludes anyone. And, frankly, trusts are good for other reasons also. Since trusts can be complicated and create unintended consequences, talk to an attorney for attempting to establish one.
It’s Never Too Early to Prepare Your Estate Plan
At Dillon Law Group, PLC, our attorneys work with you to make thoughtful decisions about your future. Give us a call at 757-962-4796 or use our convenient Contact Form. We assist clients in the Virginia Beach and Newport News areas.