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Steps you can take now to protect your estate from challenges

Creating an estate plan or a last will gives you control over what happens with your assets when you die. The same process also helps provide you with peace of mind by making it easier for you to know that your family will have the resources they need when you die.

You will probably put a lot of careful thought into who gets what and why. If you have a trust as part of your estate plan, you may even choose to put rules in place about when a beneficiary accesses those assets and how much they can withdraw at any given time. You can prevent people from using estate assets wastefully or while they are too young to appreciate their value.

All of that careful planning can go to waste if a member of your family chooses to bring a challenge against your estate plan or last will. Thankfully, there are strategies you can employ in the estate planning process that will limit the risk of unnecessary challenges to your estate in the future.

Make sure people know what to expect

One of those common reasons people give for bringing a challenge against an estate plan is surprise or shock about the contents of the last will. If you have four children, for example, they might naturally assume that each of them will receive an equal share of the inheritance.

If your last will favors one family member over others or allocates a substantial amount of the inheritance to a stepparent that you married after your children became adults or a third party, such as a charity, the members of your family are more likely to challenge your wishes.

Start estate planning early and continue to update your documents

When people feel disappointed and shocked at the contents of a last will, they might assume that fraud, external influences or cognitive decline played a factor in the creation of the document.

The longer you use similar terms and language in your estate plan, regardless of how frequently you update it, the harder it will be for people to claim that there are significant issues with the estate plan in the future.

Consider adding a no-contest clause

Also known as an in terrorem clause, a no-contest clause is exactly what it sounds like. It is special language inserted into your estate plan or last will that creates a financial penalty for anyone who brings a spurious or frivolous challenge against your last will. Pennsylvania enforces these clauses unless the person bringing the challenge has probable cause to do so.

As with the general contents of your estate plan, it is usually best to disclose the presence of a no-contest clause as soon as you add it to your last will. That way, your family members will get used to the idea that they don't have the option of challenging your last will just because they don't feel happy with its contents.

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