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Can the New York probate courts eliminate someone’s inheritance?

On Behalf of | Apr 15, 2024 | Probate |

Those with an interest in an estate often have questions about their rights and legal protections. For example, beneficiaries listed in someone’s estate planning paperwork may assume that their right to an inheritance has strong protection under New York state law.

However, they may learn after reviewing the will or estate plan that there are some questionable terms included. In some cases, the documents may substantially differ from what a deceased person previously indicated they wanted to do with their property. Their family members and beneficiaries may worry about those unexpected terms and might decide they want to take legal action.

Some testators add no-contest clauses to their wills or trusts to prevent people from challenging their last wishes. Does someone subject to a no-contest clause need to worry about the risk of losing their inheritance if they question the validity of estate planning paperwork?

New York courts may enforce no-contest clauses

No-contest clauses theoretically help prevent unnecessary litigation that could damage family relationships and reduce the value of an estate. Some people include such clauses because they believe their families might fight unnecessarily over their assets. Other times, the addition of a no-contest clause could be a secondary consequence of the undue influence of an outside party.

It is natural for those who want to protect their inheritance rights to worry that the New York probate courts might enforce a no-contest clause and strip them of their inheritance. Thankfully, the courts typically use a nuanced approach to no-contest clauses and will contests.

While the courts can enforce no-contest clauses, they may not always choose to do so. The intent of the party filing the lawsuit is a key consideration. Generally speaking, if the courts believe that someone had probable cause to suspect a specific issue with an estate plan or will, then the courts could decide to forgo enforcing the no-contest clause. However, if a judge determines that someone’s actions or malicious or unnecessary, then the courts might enforce the no-contest clause.

Individuals who are worried about the possibility that they could lose their inheritance over a desire to stand up for a loved one’s legacy may need to review the estate plan in question carefully and talk about their concerns with someone familiar with New York probate proceedings. Beneficiaries and heirs who know when to take legal action can more effectively protect themselves and the true legacy of someone who recently died, if necessary.

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