No Contest Clauses in California Trusts

Hi there, my name is Bridget Mackay. I’m an estate attorney in Petaluma. I practice in the area of wills, trusts and estate planning.

Today I’m going to talk a little bit about no contest clauses also known as, if you challenge my will or a trust, you’re going to get a dollar. What are these clauses and what is their purpose? They are mostly used to prevent beneficiaries from going to court and challenging the creator’s will or trust after they’ve created it. However, they really only work if you have a beneficiary in the trust that has something to lose. An example, a father dies leaving a son, a wife and two stepchildren. Prior to the father’s death, he and his son had had a rough time and he changed his trust or his will and reduced his son’s share of inheritance. Now, the father dies and has $10 million in his estate. The distribution went $10,000 to the son, ’cause remember, he was a little upset at him, maybe a lot of upset at him. Three-quarters of it to the surviving spouse, which is the son’s stepmom, and a quarter of it, the remaining quarter, to the step-siblings to be split equally between them, which is the son’s step-siblings, step-sister and brother.

The son is outraged as you can imagine, and he feels he deserved more than $10,000 in his inheritance and he may be right, but the testator, his dad, created his will or trust that way for a reason. However, unfortunately, even though there’s a no contest clause in dad’s trust saying if son challenges that he can act to lose all of his $10,000, the son’s not going to care because if he has the chance to get more than a million dollars, $10,000 compared to what he thinks he can get, it may be worth someone’s going to court and taking the intent of the testator to issue. So if the father had left him a million or $2 million then he might think twice and that no contest clause may prevent him from taking the court… The trust to court. When you’re thinking of these things or you have questions about no contest clauses, you should consult an experienced estate planning attorney to make sure your documents are drawn up correctly.

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