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What effect does a no-contest clause have in your will?

On Behalf of | Aug 17, 2022 | Estate Planning

When you execute a will, your intent is to express your final wishes so that they are carried out when you’re gone. What you don’t want is your beneficiaries fighting or challenging your will, and thereby frustrating your wishes in the process. To prevent this, you may consider adding a no-contest clause — but will it work?

What is a no-contest clause?

The idea behind a no-contest clause is straightforward. It is designed to deter challenges to a will. It typically includes language which automatically disinherits a beneficiary if they choose to challenge the will.

For instance, let’s say you leave a sum of money to a relative but that relative decides to challenge the will and the inheritance they’ve been bequeathed. According to the no-contest clause, their inheritance is automatically revoked and they will receive nothing.

Is the clause always effective?

The short is answer is, no, it’s not. First of all, a no-contest clause only operates against named beneficiaries. Anyone not already named in the will has nothing to fear from the provision, since they are already in a position to receive nothing.

Perhaps more importantly, New Jersey limits the effect of the clause by statute. Even if it’s a named beneficiary who brings a challenge, if that challenge is supported by probable cause, the law will not enforce the no-contest clause. This means that, if the challenge is brought in good faith and there is some evidence to believe the challenge is valid, the no-contest clause has no impact.

Additionally, the language of a no-contest clause can be critical. A provision which is vaguely written will likely not be enforced by the court. No-contest clauses are not worthless, but they do have limits. If you think it’s appropriate for your will, seek the assistance of a professional who is experienced in New Jersey estate planning.

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