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Can you prevent heirs from contesting your will or estate plan?

When you take the time to create a last will or a thorough estate plan, you do so because you want to have your wishes followed. It is possible, however, for your family members or an heir to contest your will.

If someone believes he or she didn't receive a fair inheritance or that there was a questionable change to the will, that person can ask the state to step in by processing it in probate court. The probate court can take weeks or months, cost the estate a lot of money and change the terms of your last will in some cases.

Something like this can feel like a slap in the face to the person leaving behind assets. Didn't you make it clear how you wanted your possessions divided? If you have reason to believe that someone you know, possibly a child or another family member, may contest your will, you can take steps now to prevent this from happening.

Be up front with heirs about the contents of your will

While you may not want to provide exact details to each heir about who is getting what, giving each person included (or not included) in your will information about your estate can reduce conflict later. If people understand your intentions in your last will, they may be less likely to contest them after the fact.

Many times, people seem to contest estate plans and wills because they are surprised or disappointed about its contents. Sharing your plans with heirs ahead of time can prevent this from becoming an issue with your estate.

Create a strong will and update your estate plan

In some cases, creating a trust can protect your estate from probate court and an heir contesting your decisions. However, a legally sound last will and regularly updated estate plan are often sufficient to stand up to being contested in court. Make a last will as soon as possible, and keep it current.

Updating your estate plan or will when your family or financial situation changes is wise anyway. Removing heirs who have died or adding new family members ensures there are no questions or confusion about the administration of your estate.

Consider a "no contest clause" in your will

When you create a last will, you can add language that penalizes anyone who contests your will. You could reduce the inheritance of someone who drags your estate into court or even completely disinherit that person with a no contest clause.

These clauses are typically enforced by Texas probate courts, so telling your family and heirs about including one should deter anyone who hopes to get a bigger portion of your estate. Under Texas law and precedent, the only time the courts would not enforce these clauses is if an heir contests a will out of good faith and with just cause, such as an executor not performing his or her duties.

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