What is a no contest clause?

Some people go to extreme lengths to keep others from fighting over their estate. They may worry that someone is going to challenge the will, and they'll include a "no contest" clause. What is this and how does it work?

As you can probably guess from the name, it attempts to make it impossible for someone to contest the will, at least without risk. The clause usually says that anyone who does so will be completely disinherited if they lose the challenge.

For instance, someone may get $10,000 when they thought they should get $100,000. They may decide to contest the will to demand more of the estate. If they lose that challenge, not only do they not get the $100,000, but they also do not get the $10,000 that was initially left to them.

This type of clause can deter some people from contesting what they think is an unfair will. They may decide that it is not worth the risk if they're not 100 percent sure they can win in court.

That said, it is very important to note that many of these clauses are not enforceable. Those with proper standing -- generally, heirs or people named in the will or a previous version of the will -- often have the right to challenge so long as they can show there is a valid reason for that action. The court may find it unfair to force them to risk everything just to exercise that right.

Those involved with contested wills, on either side, need to know all of their legal rights.

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