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Your estate plan is a reflection of your relationships and your personal success. The assets you intend to bequeath to family members represent a lifetime of work, investment and acquisition. The people you want to leave them to will be those whom you love and support.

Unfortunately, while you may spend a lot of time and mental energy deciding how to split your property, your planning could all go out the window within seconds if someone decides to challenge your last will or estate plan. Should you consider adding a special clause to your last will that penalizes anyone who challenges your estate?

How a no-contest clause works

A no-contest clause or in terrorem clause can prevent challenges to your estate plan. Essentially, it empowers the courts to reduce or eliminate the inheritance of an individual who challenges your wishes. Family members and beneficiaries should know about a no-contest clause because it will be part of the language of the estate plan.

The New York probate courts do typically uphold no-contest clauses. The assets the individual would have received will go back into the estate and likely get distributed to other beneficiaries. New York does limit the enforcement of no-contest closes, but it will enforce them regardless of probable cause or good faith behind the challenge.

You can help your family avoid triggering the clause

Most testators who add no-contest clauses to their last wills don’t do so because they want to trick or surprise family members and heirs. Instead, they want to prevent unnecessary conflict and protect their wishes regarding their property.

If you choose to add a no-contest clause to your last will, it’s important that the people who would benefit from your estate plan know about that decision. Telling everyone who could potentially bring a challenge against your last will that such actions will result in their disinheritance will give them time to process that information. They will have years to accept that your wishes outweigh their desires when it comes to your estate, which can hopefully achieve the goal of preserving your plan.

Careful estate planning can help people avoid family conflict or probate outcomes that undermine their last wishes.