No Contest for Meddling Relatives

When are you safe from meddling relatives if not when you’re dead?

It turns out, even death is no safe haven, as this article by Tracy Breton in The Providence Journal suggests. According to the article, the Will of University of Rhode Island professor Beatrice S. Demers, who died last year at the age of 100, is being disputed by distant relatives. Demers’ distant cousins are arguing that her Will, which leaves millions of dollars to various charities, is invalid on the grounds that Demers was not of sound mind when she signed it back in 2002. 

Unfortunately, contested Wills and Trusts are not as unusual an occurrence as we’d like to think. Money—especially large sums of it—sometimes turn reasonable people into irrational creatures. Luckily, we have experience with this, and have made it our business to make sure that your final wishes are respected. 

One tool we estate planning attorneys use to protect your wishes is something called a “no contest clause.” A no contest clause basically means that if anyone contests your document without probable cause, that person is automatically disinherited. Some no contest clauses will allow the contester to walk away with nothing more than $1, or some other insignificant amount.

Of course, particular care must be taken in cases such as the one in the article mentioned above, where dementia may be a factor. Two witnesses are required at the signing of a Will for this very reason; not only to ensure that no force or pressure is involved, but also to testify that the person signing the Will is indeed of sound mind. 

If you have had an attorney’s help in creating your Will (as opposed to creating one online or using a home software program), you have a further layer of protection, because the attorney will have ascertained your state of mind through personal conversations, and be able to bear witness to that fact if necessary.

Of course, your family would never oppose your final wishes. But just to be safe, make sure your estate plan has an effective no contest clause. You never know when a second-cousin-twice-removed may pop out of the woodwork.