What do savvy attorneys suggest putting in a will when someone will receive nothing?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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The possibility of a Will Contest is one of the reasons many lawyers encourage their clients to never completely cut someone who would normally expect to inherit, like a child or grandchild, out of the Will. Instead, they suggest that you leave the out-of-favor descendant or heir a relatively small amount, and put an “in terrorum” clause in the Will saying that if that person contests the Will and fails, he or she loses even that small amount. Will challenges are expensive and most of them fail, so this kind of a clause is often effective in discouraging challenges. People don’t want to risk coming out of a Will contest with a loss (a big legal bill) instead of a gain.

Someone who is considering disinheriting a person who could challenge the Will (i.e., a close relative or someone named in an earlier Will) should probably get legal advice, not only for the wording of the Will but also about the way the Will should be executed. When a lawyer prepares a Will, he or she makes sure the wording and execution is done as required by law. If there is a possibility of the Will being challenged for fraud, forgery, or lack of competence, there are ways to safeguard the Will. For example, a qualified medical witness might be present at the signing, several other witnesses might be present at the execution ceremony, and the ceremony might be videotaped and copies of the recording placed in safekeeping.

Will contests can eat up an estate and deprive all the heirs of their share of property, so it’s worthwhile to safeguard against them.

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