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Examining whether no contest clauses are enforceable

Among the many reasons why people in Seattle may put off the process of estate planning is due to a fear of upsetting their beneficiaries because of their decisions. Yet the alternative is putting the matter completely at the mercy of state law. Those who are concerned that their estate decisions may prompt discord may want to consider including an added degree of enforceability to their wills. This can be done by including language that amounts to a "no contest" clause

No contest clauses are provisions in a will that present the potential for penalties to be leveled towards designated beneficiaries who challenge the validity of one's will. These penalties can include one seeing their interest in an estate distributed elsewhere, effectively disinheriting them. The purpose of such a clause is, of course, to deter beneficiaries from starting a dispute. Some may question, however, whether these clauses are actually enforceable. 

In a 2017 ruling issued by a state appellate court, the state of Washington's view of the enforceability was made quite clear: "A testator has the lawful right to dispose of his property upon whatever condition he desires, as long as the condition is not prohibited by some law or opposed to public policy." Thus, while the state does recognize the right of a beneficiary to challenge a will, it also clearly stipulates under which conditions such a challenge would not invoke said will's no contest clause. 

Again, those wanting to add teeth to the terms of their estate in this manner cannot at the same time overlook the process of estate planning. The American Association of Retired Persons reports that as many as 60 percent of American adults do not have a will. Those who do not have no control over deterring inheritance disputes. 

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Riach Gese Jacobs, PLLC
7331 196th Street, SW
P.O. Box 1067
Lynnwood, WA 98046

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