Will the Texas probate courts uphold a no-contest clause?

On Behalf of | Dec 13, 2023 | Estate And Trust Litigation

A will is a written declaration of someone’s last wishes. It describes what they want to do with their property after they die and names the person they choose to administer their estate. Typically, families in Texas will follow the instructions in someone’s will as they distribute resources from their estate. The personal representative of the estate must present the will to the Texas probate courts to begin the probate process. They must follow Texas state law and the instructions included in the will as they resolve someone’s responsibilities and distribute their assets.

Occasionally, someone with an interest in the estate questions whether the will is valid or not. They may suspect someone of undue influence on the testator or may believe that they lacked the testamentary capacity to draft a will. If there is a no-contest clause in the will, does the person contesting its validity need to worry about the courts enforcing that clause?

Enforcement depends on the circumstances

In theory, the law in Texas allows Texas probate judges to uphold no-contest clauses. A no-contest clause usually disinherits someone who brings a frivolous challenge against the estate. The goal of such clauses is usually to deter unnecessary probate expenses and minimize family conflict. After all, probate litigation can become expensive very quickly and may diminish what every beneficiary receives from the estate.

If someone contests a will with a no-contest clause, a Texas probate judge might decide to enforce that clause and eliminate the inheritance of the person who filed the lawsuit. However, current standards in Texas leave such determinations to the discretion of the judge in certain cases. If there is no proof of a lack of capacity, fraud, undue influence or other issues, the judge may disinherit the person contesting the will. If the person contesting the documents did so in in good faith and with probable cause, then the Texas probate courts likely won’t enforce a no-contest clause.

Those who decide to take legal action against an estate with a no-contest clause typically need to prepare carefully for court if they hope to protect their potential inheritance. Understanding how Texas handles different complicated probate scenarios may benefit those who have an interest in an estate.