Can adults disinherit family members if they initiate probate litigation?

On Behalf of | Mar 22, 2024 | Estate Planning |

When an adult commits the time and consideration necessary to draft an estate plan, they do so with the expectation that others will respect their wishes. After all, much of the estate planning process is for the comfort and support of the testator’s loved ones.

Testators drafting estate planning documents may want to earmark certain assets for specific family members or ensure the protection of vulnerable loved ones by naming a guardian to care for them. They may also worry that their closest family members might fight over the resources that they leave behind when they die if they aren’t clear about their intentions.

Even the estates of those who plan carefully sometimes end up embroiled in lengthy probate litigation that damages family relationships and diminishes the value of the assets that people inherit. Many testators would prefer to prevent probate litigation if at all possible. Can someone impose a penalty on family members who inappropriately challenge their estate planning wishes?

New York does permit no-contest clauses

There are different tools available for those who worry that their loved ones may fight over their resources. A no-contest clause is one of the most popular and simplest solutions for preventing frivolous probate litigation. People can add them to wills or even to trusts.

Also called a penalty clause, a no-contest clause diminishes or eliminates the inheritance rights of someone who challenges estate planning documents. Those who include no-contest clauses in their estate plans can reduce the incentive to bring frivolous legal actions against an estate. Testators who communicate with their loved ones about the inclusion of a no-contest clause can often motivate their family members to cooperate with one another and uphold their wishes after they die.

It is worthwhile to note that the New York courts do limit the enforcement of no-contest clauses. If someone can show that they had probable cause and brought the contest in good faith, then the courts may not eliminate their inheritance simply because they took legal action against an estate.

Testators who are worried about the possibility of conflict after they die may need to employ more finesse during the estate planning process. Integrating the right terms into estate planning paperwork can diminish the likelihood of conflict among beneficiaries after someone’s passing.