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Do the South Carolina probate courts enforce no-contest clauses?

On Behalf of | Mar 19, 2024 | Probate

Someone’s estate plan can include a variety of different instructions and requests. There may be language designating certain people as the recipients for certain property and instructions about the care of dependent family members. Testators often invest a lot of time into the creation of custom documents that truly reflect their personal wishes and current relationships. They usually expect their loved ones to respect and uphold their estate planning paperwork.

Sometimes, people worry that someone in their family might demand too much from their estate or that their beneficiaries could fight with one another. Someone who has children who have never been able to get along or those who start blended families might have reason to worry about probate conflicts after they die.

People plan to reduce family conflict

Some people decide to add no-contest or in terrorem clauses to their wills or trusts. Also known as penalty clauses, these special inclusions can disinherit someone for challenging an estate plan. When combined with clear communication with loved ones and legally sound documents, no-contest clauses can help deter frivolous probate litigation. Do the South Carolina probate courts uphold no-contest clauses if someone initiates probate litigation?

The law limits the enforcement of no-contest clauses

Only a few states refuse to acknowledge no-contest clauses. South Carolina only restricts their enforcement but does not prohibit their use. According to current statutes, the courts should not enforce a no-contest clause if the person challenging the will has probable cause for doing so.

If there is an articulable reason to challenge the will based on existing statutes, then the courts may not deny someone their inheritance. Probable cause involves having a reasonable suspicion of a specific issue such as undue influence or a lack of testamentary capacity at the time someone drafted the documents. Only those who have probable cause can take legal action against an estate without putting their personal right to an inheritance at risk with that decision.

Those concerned about the outcome of probate proceedings may need to learn more about South Carolina law if they hope to effectively protect their interests. Pursuing a contest in South Carolina probate court can be a reasonable choice. Beneficiaries and family members generally benefit from understanding the risks involved in initiating probate litigation before they take legal action.