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How to take steps to protect against probate litigation

Philadelphia residents often spent considerable time and effort creating an estate plan that reflects their sincere intentions. Having those plans altered by probate litigation is often not something that individuals or families think about, although there is a risk that many of the provisions laid out within an estate plan could change during the course of a legal challenge. There are a number of steps that individuals can take to help ensure that the stipulations laid out within their estate plan will endure a challenge in probate court.

One of the most powerful things that can be done to reduce the risk of a contested will is a very simply step, yet one that is so often overlooked. Taking care to use clear language within a will and other estate planning documents can make a world of difference if the matter ever goes before a court of law. This begins with naming each and every heir and outlining which assets that person can expect to receive from the estate.

Many people make the mistake of simply stating that their "children" are all entitled to an equal share of the estate. This approach, however, leaves the door open as to how "children" are defined. Do stepchildren count? What about stepchildren from a previous marriage? How would a child who was born out of wedlock or as a result of an extramarital affair be treated in the eyes of the court?

The best way to approach this issue is to clearly name all of the individuals who are intended as heirs. Then, those individuals who are not intended to inherit but who could conceivably challenge the will should also be named. This demonstrates to all involved the clear intent of the person drafting the estate plan. It also serves to make things easier for Philadelphia courts, if the matter ever reaches the level of probate litigation.  

Source:, "Myths of estate planning", Lawrence S. Jacobs, Aug. 12, 2016

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