A will is the cornerstone of a comprehensive estate plan and allows an individual to designate who inherits certain assets and personal belongings. However, in some cases, heirs may challenge the validity of a will—leading to costly legal battles and irreparable family rifts. Thankfully, when drafting a will, there are steps that you can take to protect your wishes and guard against possible future legal actions.
By including specific language known as a no-contest clause, you can reduce the risk of your will being contested.
Consider adding a no-contest clause
A no-contest clause, also called a terrorem clause, is specific language intended to discourage family members or other heirs from contesting a will solely for the purpose of their own personal gain.
A no-contest clause puts in place consequences for heirs who needlessly challenge your will or estate plan in probate court. Many times, a family member who doesn't respect an individual’s will and final wishes is cut completely out of the will. Other times, a challenger's inheritance may be reduced by a specific percentage, which may then be split among other heirs or even a charity.
Regardless of which approach you take, you should inform your heirs about a no-contest clause. That way, they will know of the potential consequences of challenging the will. This is especially important if you think there is a particular individual who will take issue with your will or estate plan.
Virginia strictly enforces no-contest clauses
Probate and estate laws differ in every state. Virginia is one of several states that strictly enforces no-contest clauses. While many states allow an heir to bring a challenge without risking activating the no-contest clause provided they have good faith or reasonable cause, Virginia does not.
Virginia probate courts will typically enforce a no-contest clause regardless of the grounds for the challenge. If you think that there is someone in your family who is likely to challenge your will, adding a no-contest clause may be a good option. Take time today to sit down with an experienced Virginia estate attorney and talk about protecting your legacy.