Is a No-Contest Clause in a Will Enforceable?
For most people, one of the primary objectives of estate planning is reducing any potential conflict that could arise between family members. One way of doing this is by including a no-contest clause in a last will and testament. However, even if your loved one included a no-contest clause in their will, it doesn’t mean that you can’t raise a challenge in court under certain circumstances. In Minnesota, a no-contest clause in a will is enforceable under the law — but only to a certain extent.
What is a No-Contest Clause?
A no-contest clause is a provision in a will that is commonly used to help to protect the testator’s wishes. It provides if a beneficiary or interested party contests the instrument and loses, they will receive nothing from the estate. In other words, if a beneficiary chooses to challenge the will and they do not prevail, they would be forfeiting any bequest left to them. Many include these types of clauses if they believe a beneficiary would be upset about the inheritance being left to them.
Others use no contest clauses in a last will and testament to discourage disgruntled heirs from bringing baseless challenges to their will or help their beneficiaries to avoid lengthy litigation that would delay the administration of the estate. A no-contest clause can be a powerful tool when used correctly. This type of clause in a will substantially raises the stakes for a party who seeks to challenge the terms of a loved one’s will by threatening no inheritance at all. However, it's important to understand that regardless of whether there was a no-contest clause in your loved one’s will, you may still be able to challenge it in some cases.
Are No-Contest Clauses Enforceable in Minnesota?
In many instances, Minnesota courts uphold no-contest clauses in a last will and testament. However, these clauses are not absolute. The state has also adopted the uniform probate code which limits the extent of these types of provisions.
Minnesota Statute 524.2-517 specifically states the following: “A provision in a will purporting to penalize an interested person for contesting the will or instituting other proceedings relating to the estate is unenforceable if probable cause exists for instituting proceedings.”
In other words, a court would not apply a no-contest clause if an interested party has probable cause for bringing a challenge to the decedent’s estate.
Establishing Probable Cause to Bring a Will Contest
To establish probable cause in a will contest when a no-contest clause exists, the party contesting the will would need to have strong evidence that the instrument should be rendered invalid. There are several reasons a Minnesota court might find there is probable cause to set aside a will, including the following:
- Fraud — Fraud can occur during the creation, execution, or administration of a will. It can take place when someone submits a will that is forged or false information has been submitted with the intent to deceive.
- Coercion or duress — A last will and testament can be set aside if the challenger can show that the testator was coerced, threatened, or manipulated into signing it against their will.
- Undue influence — A will may be invalidated on the basis of undue influence if another person influenced the testator to such a degree that it destroyed their own free agency and substituted the will of the person exercising the influence over them.
- Lack of mental capacity — A will may be challenged even if it contains a no-contest clause if the testator did not have the sufficient mental capacity to understand what they were signing.
A will may also be contested if it doesn’t meet the statutory requirements of Minnesota law. Importantly, a will contest brought in good faith under reasonable grounds will not trigger a no-contest clause. Rather, the clauses are meant to deter claims that are baseless or frivolous.
Challenging a Will When There is a No-Contest Clause
Many people think that a no-contest clause means they can’t challenge a will. While a no-contest clause may reduce the options you have when it comes to challenging a will, it does not entirely eliminate them. However, a will contest when a no-contest clause exists should only be brought when there is a strong likelihood the challenge would be successful. If you believe you did not receive the inheritance to which you were entitled — and there is a no-contest clause in your loved one’s will — it’s crucial to discuss the facts of your case with an experienced probate litigation attorney.
Contact an Experienced Minnesota Probate and Litigation Attorney
If you are a beneficiary of a loved one’s will and believe the instrument should be contested for good cause, it’s essential to have a skillful attorney who can safeguard your interests. At Dave Burns Law Office, I provide experienced counsel for Minnesota will contests and probate issues. If you would like to discuss a probate litigation matter, I welcome you to contact me at (612) 677-8351 or by emailing email@example.com. I assist clients throughout the Twin Cities metro area and am available to meet with clients in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The Dave Burns Law Office hopes you find this article helpful. But please do not rely on it as legal advice. The law changes regularly and the outcome of any legal matter depends on its unique circumstances. View full disclaimer