I recently read an interesting article on this topic. (A Will and a Way, WALL STREET JOURNAL, by Anne Tergesen) The article points out that Nevada (among a handful of other states) now allows for pre-mortem probate. What this means is that a person can present his or her planning documents to the court and require a contesting beneficiary to present his challenges to the court before the Testator (person who signed the Will or Trust) passes away. The advantage is that the best witness for the court is still alive to defend his or her actions. The disadvantage is that the client must disclose his or her documents with the court and make the contents known to the beneficiaries. The result is that if the person later changes his or her Will or Trust, then the process must occur again. It’s an interesting idea and I don’t know if our firm has handled a case like this in our local probate court. But as a planner, it’s important for me to know that this is available.
The article points out some other tools that estate planners may use to prevent a challenge to a Will or trust after the client passes away:
1. Use a video message from the Testator to explain provisions of the Will. This may soften the blow to beneficiaries, but might also backfire if the Testator says something inconsistent with the Will.
2. Include a no-contest clause. We do this at our firm, and they are fun to talk about and point out to the client, but are not always enforceable and would not be enforceable if there was a genuine concern that the Testator had capacity or was subject to undue influence.
3. Provide a gift of cash or other property to a person that is suspected to challenge the Will. (I’ve never heard of this one and it made me chuckle). If the person accepts a gift from the Testator at that time, it will be difficult for the person to claim that the Testator was incapacitated at the time of the gift.
Other standby techniques not discussed in the Wall Street Journal article include:
1. Making a specific bequest to a potential challenger which then gives the no-contest provision some effect (they stand to lose something if they challenge and lose).