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Can you lose your inheritance by challenging a will?

On Behalf of | Apr 29, 2022 | Estate Planning |

Those who die in California will have their estates pass through the California probate courts. If they leave behind an estate plan or will, their documents will determine what happens to their property. Otherwise, California intestate succession laws will guide the division of their belongings among heirs.

Occasionally, people die with estate plans that their family members think are questionable. If you have three siblings, your parent may have said that all of you would share the estate evenly. However, when they die, they leave instructions that pass all of their property to one of your siblings, basically disinheriting the rest of you.

Is your inheritance at risk if you challenge the will in California probate court?

Challenges on their own won’t affect your inheritance rights

The right to bring a will contest or challenge the administration of an estate exists to protect people from fraud and other forms of misconduct, like undue influence and coercion. Even if one of your siblings threatened or tricked your parents into changing their estate plan, you could challenge those changes by alleging undue influence and convince the courts to revert the estate plan to a previous version of the documents.

Bringing a challenge does not inherently risk anything other than an increase in the probate costs for the estate. However, your inheritance could be at risk if the testator included a no-contest clause.

California sometimes enforces no-contest clauses

There are some people who will fight over an inheritance not because they suspect fraud but just because they want more money for themselves. If the testator included a no-contest clause in their will or trust, bringing a challenge against their documents in probate court could lead to your disinheritance.

California law does permit the court to enforce such clauses, although the situation must meet certain strict criteria. In the absence of a no-contest clause or in situations where you have probable cause for bringing a challenge, the courts may not take any punitive action against you for your decision to initiate probate litigation.

Learning more about the process of challenging a will and the possible consequences can help you be a better advocate for yourself and your loved one who recently died.