When creating your will, you might consider inserting a no-contest clause. It can act as a deterrent to prevent anyone from challenging your wishes. However, a California court will not always uphold a no-contest clause.
When does California consider a no-contest clause valid?
California law gives three circumstances in which it will enforce a no-contest clause:
- A direct contest without probable cause: People need a valid reason to contest a will. Only specific reasons are permitted. These include fraud, the will being signed under duress, lack of testamentary capacity or undue influence.
- A challenge to the property ownership: If someone believes an asset you intend to transfer in your estate does not belong to you, they may file a contest. The same applies if you put assets in a trust which they claim belong to them.
- Filing a creditors claim: Someone you name as a beneficiary could file a creditor claim saying you owed them money. If you included a clause to prohibit this, a court should uphold the no-contest clause.
No-contest clauses can act as a useful deterrent. If a beneficiary contests your will regardless, they could risk losing everything if a court upholds the no-contest clause. If you wish to use one, you will need legal help to ensure it is correctly written to cover the intended circumstances.
While a no-contest clause can prevent challenges, they will not stop someone from feeling your will does not reflect your true wishes. Regularly updating your estate plan reduces the chance of confusion. Talking to your family about your estate plan and explaining your decisions while alive can help them understand your choices better and reduce the risk of a will contest.