In Maryland and the District of Columbia, most people prepare a Last Will &Testament (“Will”) as a means of providing final instructions for such matters as burials and how property/assets are to be distributed upon passing. But there is another important reason to have a Will drafted and properly executed: avoiding probate litigation among family members after death. There are few things worse than a family fighting over a Will here in Maryland/DC. The attorneys here at the Law Offices of Thomas Stahl are experienced Maryland/DC trust and estate planning lawyers and we can help ensure that your Will helps to avoid Will contests. Here are some methods of avoiding Will contests.
The first key to avoiding a Will contest by family members is to provide clear, unambiguous and consistent instructions. This means clearly identifying financial accounts and assets and plainly stating to whom those assets are to be given. So, instead of the Will saying “automobile,” the Will should identify the vehicle in question as, for example, the “2022 Tesla.” Likewise, there should be no confusion as to the recipient. They should be named explicitly. Furthermore, if a family member is being specifically excluded from receiving under a Will, the best practice is to state that in the Will. A statement of this sort signals a Maryland/DC probate court that a person has not been accidentally omitted. Probate judges will generally enforce the intent of the person making the Will.
To avoid Will contests, it is also essential to frequently update a Will when new assets are purchased/obtained and/or when assets are divested. If an older vehicle has been traded in or a home sold, it is time to update your Will. The Estate Planning lawyers at the Law Offices of Thomas Stahl advise that you should schedule an annual review of your Will and Estate Planning documents. Maybe nothing needs changing, but an annual review should still be calendared.
Make your wishes known in advance
One of the most common factors that leads to a Maryland/DC Will contest is surprise (and the resulting feeling of being “snubbed” or “forgotten”). The best way to avoid this is to make sure that your general wishes are known to family and friends. This is particularly true if you know in advance that a certain bequest will cause “hard feelings.”
Include an “in terrorem” clause in the Will
In Maryland, a Will can contain what is called an “in terrorem” clause. This is often called a “no contest” clause and, essentially, disinherits a person who unsuccessfully challenges the Will. In effect, these types of provisions are “take-it-or-leave-it” and typically prevent family and friends from challenging a Will.
Ensure proper and legal execution
In addition, a Will contest can be avoided by ensuring a proper and legal execution of the Will. This means have disinterested witnesses watch you sign the Will under condtions where there can be no allegation of duress, undue influence or mental incompetence. These are commonly asserted reasons for challenging a Maryland/DC Will. These conditions should be met for each iteration of your Will. This avoids probate litigation over “competing” Wills where a family member argues, for example, that the 2021 Will is still valid because the 2022 Will was not executed properly.
Maryland and D.C. Trust and Estate Planning Attorneys
If you are thinking about establishing a trust or need estate planning documents drafted, contact the Maryland and D.C. trust and estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We have the experience and expertise you need. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD and Washington, DC.