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Florida Differs From Other States When Writing a Will

Want to prevent your relatives from fighting over your will after you die?

In most states, a person can put the brakes on a court battle between family members by writing what’s known as a “no-contest clause” into the will itself. If any of your relatives have such a clause in their will, that’s something you’ll want to take notice of right away.

No-Contest Clause Triggers Harsh Penalty

A no-contest clause is usually a short paragraph that says anyone who stands to inherit under the will shall be immediately disinherited if the person challenges the will in court.

Here’s how it works: Let’s say that Grandma writes a will leaving her jewelry collection to her granddaughter and a valuable painting to her son. Upon Grandma’s death, the son contests the will, arguing that he should receive the jewelry collection as well. If Grandma has written a no-contest clause into her will, then the son will receive nothing. That’s right, nothing. Not even the painting; all because he violated the no-contest clause.

It sounds harsh, but that’s the point. It’s a deterrent, designed to prevent a long, drawn-out court fight between heirs and allow the wishes of the will’s author to be carried out under the explicit terms of the document. The message to beneficiaries is simple: be happy with what you get, and don’t get greedy – or you’ll be cut out altogether.

Florida Rejects No-Contest Clauses

But hold on. The rules change if the person writing the will happens to reside in Florida. Florida law flat out rejects no-contest clauses. They’re no good here, and courts in the Sunshine State will simply ignore them. Specifically, Florida’s law states, “A provision in a will purporting to penalize any interested person for contesting the will or instituting other proceedings relating to the estate is unenforceable.”

Florida’s refusal to recognize no-contest clauses means that beneficiaries can challenge a will in court without having to worry that doing so would put the rest of their inheritance under the will in jeopardy.

Costly Lesson

As you can imagine, in states where no-contest clauses are enforceable, the results can be catastrophic. Dawn Roddenberry, the daughter of “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry, learned that the hard way. She decided to boldly go where no other family member had gone before and challenged her father’s will, despite the no-contest clause the document contained.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the will called for her to receive $500,000 in cash, plus a quarter of the proceeds from “Star Trek” merchandise, movies, and television syndication. When the five-year court battle came to an end, the Times reported, Dawn Roddenberry was effectively disinherited, losing out on what would have been her share of “Star Trek” profits.

You don’t have to be rich, however, to begin work on an estate plan with an attorney. In fact, estate planning is important for people of all incomes to determine how assets will be divided and distributed. A will may be just one element. Other tools you may want to consider include trusts, powers of attorney, health care directives, and guardianships.

To speak with an experienced attorney about your estate plan, contact the Law Offices of Larry E. Bray, P.A.

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