Five ways to reduce the risk of an estate challenge

On Behalf of | Jul 1, 2024 | Estate Planning |

You’ve worked hard to build your wealth. Now, you’re ready to formulate a plan for how to leave your assets to the people you care about most.

While this can be an exciting opportunity, it can also raise concerns. This is especially true if you think that someone in your family will try to challenge your estate plan. This may happen because they’ve been cut out of your estate plan or because they’ve received less than they expected.

The risk of an estate plan challenge shouldn’t be taken lightly. If a probate court sides with the challenger, finding that your estate plan lacks legal viability, then key estate plan documentation can be considered void. In turn, this result can devastate your vision for asset distribution, leaving assets in the hands of those you never wanted to inherit in the first place.

So, how can you protect your estate plan from being challenged?

You can’t completely cut off the possibility of your estate plan being challenged. However, you can reduce the risk of challenge and minimize the likelihood that someone will succeed with one of them. Here are some ways to do that:

  1. Establish mental capacity: A challenger to your estate plan might argue that you lacked the requisite mental capacity to create a legally viable estate plan. To prevent that, make sure there’s a strong record of your mental capabilities at and near the time you sign off on estate plan documentation. You can get an opinion from your doctor, have plenty of witnesses around you, and even give gifts to the expected challenger to see if they accept them, which leads to the conclusion that they believe you possess the capacity necessary to dictate the distribution of your assets.
  2. Talk to your family: A lot of people avoid talking about estate planning with their families. But you can reduce the risk of an estate challenge by talking openly and honestly about estate planning with your loved ones over time. This will create a clear record of your intentions.
  3. Revisit your plan regularly: By revisiting and modifying your estate plan when needed, such as when loved ones get divorced or pass away, you can ensure that it reflects your current wishes. Modifying your estate plan in a timely fashion can also provide strong justification for any changes that you make.
  4. Avoid the perception of undue influence: To avoid the perception of impropriety, you should distance your estate planning activities from those who stand to gain from it. If you allow those individuals to help you too much, then it’ll be easier for a challenger to argue that they were simply trying to unduly influence you in a way that benefited them to the detriment of the challenger.
  5. Utilize a no contest clause: This clause states that someone who is set to inherit from you will lose that inheritance if they try to challenge the estate and ultimately fail. This can be a powerful way to keep your beneficiaries in check. And if you suspect that someone will challenge your estate plan, giving them something from your estate with a corresponding no contest clause could placate them enough to prevent a challenge.

Do everything you can to protect your estate and your vision of the future

The way you formulate your estate plan can change the future for your loved ones in dramatic ways. But all of that can be dashed if your estate plan is challenged in probate court. That’s why now is the time to talk to your estate planning attorney to figure out the best way to insulate your plan from any potential challenges that could threaten to derail what you’ve built.