Over the past few years, I have had more and more clients coming to me asking me to prepare their Will so no one can contest it and so their Estate is “easy” to handle when they pass on.
It seems everyone who requests this type of planning from me, and likely many of you reading this, have horror stories of family members fighting over an estate after a loved one passes. The unfortunate reality is money can often bring out the greed in people and the handling of an Estate is no different.
The truth, as I tell my clients, is that anyone can sue anybody for anything. This colloquialism is proven by the ever-increasing number of estates involving litigation throughout the state. And, such litigation is where I now find myself spending much of my time.
Fortunately, there are measures you can take to help prevent this litigation. Pennsylvania law permits a clause to be inserted into a Will called a “no contest” clause otherwise known as an “in terrorem” clause. The specific statute is 20 Pa.C.S. 2521. As you might imagine, what this clause means is that an heir who challenges or contests your Will and loses will lose or forfeit their inheritance.
Such a clause can help keep the estate process flowing smoothly, protect your estate from litigation costs, and with any luck, help keep the family from vexatiously suing one another.
However, it is important to remember that such a clause is not the be all and end all; and, for good reason. Pennsylvania law states that forfeiture will not take place if there was “probable cause” for the Will contest. For example, if your family member was unduly influenced by someone or some group in his or her planning, when you contest that Will, the “no contest” clause will be inapplicable because you had good reason to try to overturn what your family member may have been unduly forced to do! So, there are protective measures.
With this information in mind, there are some typical situations in which this clause comes in to play with my clients. The “no contest” clause will often come into play when a family member remarries late in life, a person marries someone of different beliefs from the family, or with same-sex marriages.
Regardless of your current situation, you can count on us to work closely with you to create an estate plan that is tailored to you and your family’s needs. Call us now at 412-209-3200 or send us an email at aanderson@PaLawFirm.com or at jash@PaLawFirm.com to schedule a free, no-obligation conference to assess your needs.