Will the New York courts uphold a no-contest clause in your will?

by | Dec 21, 2020 | Estate Planning |

There are many reasons why you might suspect that someone in your family would challenge your last will. Perhaps you chose to disinherit one of your children or maybe you know that your relatives will fight no matter what you do.

A challenge to your estate could destroy your legacy and possibly consume a substantial amount of the value of your estate. Probate court proceedings can take months and cost thousands of dollars. Avoiding unnecessary challenges to your last will can help maximize what you leave behind and reduce stress on your executor and heirs.

Sadly, it only takes one aggressive person to derail a perfect estate plan and drag the whole family through probate court, ostensibly for that one person’s benefit. If you worry about someone bringing a baseless challenge against your estate plan and undermining your legacy after you die, you might consider integrating a no-contest clause into your last will.

How does a no-contest clause work?

As the name implies, a no-contest clause aims to prevent individuals from challenging your carefully planned legacy. Also known as an in terrorem clause, a no-contest clause creates a penalty for those who act against the wishes of the testator.

A no-contest clause can help deter someone from challenging your estate because they stand to lose something instead of potentially benefiting by securing a larger inheritance. The penalty has to be significant enough to give someone pause.

Some people choose to reduce the inheritance of a person who challenges the estate by a specific percent, while others might instead disinherit the person challenging their wishes entirely. If you go through the trouble of creating a no-contest clause, will the New York courts enforce it?

New York does uphold no-contest clauses in estate plans

The New York probate courts recognize the validity of no-contest clauses. They will enforce the clause if a beneficiary from your estate challenges your wishes. In fact, New York is stricter in its enforcement of these clauses than many other states.

In New York, probate judges will uphold a no-contest clause even if the person challenging the estate has relatively convincing evidence that they did so in good faith or because they have probable cause to suspect undue influence or fraud.

Adding a no-contest clause and warning your loved ones about it can go a long way toward preventing unnecessary challenges to your wishes when you die.