Probate litigation is sometimes necessary despite the best-laid plans of the testator. When beneficiaries believe that an executor has embezzled or made terrible decisions, they could challenge their position or ask the courts to stop them from transferring certain property.
When family members sincerely question the validity of estate documents because they suspect undue influence from a caregiver, fraud or a testator who lacked the capacity to create documents, they could challenge the testamentary documents themselves. Such challenges will extend how long it takes to resolve probate matters and will diminish the inheritance of all beneficiaries, as probate proceedings typically cost thousands of dollars.
Will the Colorado courts punish someone if they bring unnecessary litigation in hopes of personal benefit and waste estate assets?
Testators can create a probate penalty
Unfortunately, the Colorado probate courts are unlikely to punish someone simply because their lawsuit seems baseless to others. However, those creating estate plans can include clauses that create consequences for unnecessary challenges.
A no-contest clause in a will or trust gives the testator the authority to disinherit someone if they bring unnecessary or frivolous litigation against their estate plan. In general, the Colorado courts will uphold such a clause and financially penalize a litigant provided that they cannot prove they had probable cause to bring a challenge.
If there is clear evidence of misconduct or a lack of testamentary capacity, the courts may set aside the no-contest clause. Otherwise, they will likely uphold it and potentially disinherit someone who challenges an estate not out of concern but out of hope for personal profit.
Reviewing estate documents may deter people from challenging a will
Sometimes, beneficiaries and family members unhappy with an estate plan don’t even take the time to fully read the documents. They start planning their challenges as soon as they learn that they won’t receive as much of an inheritance as they expected.
If everyone related to the decedent or expecting to inherit from the estate knows about the no-contest clause, they will be less likely to bring challenges that delay probate proceedings and decrease what everyone inherits. Including the right terms when drafting an estate plan and invoking protective clauses during estate administration can help deter unnecessary and expensive litigation.