Motion Practice May Violate a No Contest Clause

A Last Will and Testament may be attacked for a variety of reasons, maybe someone did not receive as much as they wanted or maybe something genuinely went wrong with the execution of the Last Will and Testament.  To prevent beneficiaries from disputing a Last Will and Testament, no contest provisions are often included and state that if a beneficiary attacks the document, they lose their right to inherit. As the below case demonstrates, attacking a Last Will and Testament can be risky and may cause a beneficiary to lose their inheritance.

In In Re Estate of Margaret Rai-Choudhury, 2019 WL 931658 (2019), the Washington Court of Appeals of Washington examined in an unpublished opinion whether a motion, labeled other than a contest, violates a no contest clause in a Last Will and Testament.

Margaret Rai-Choudhury’s Last Will and Testament left none of her property to her daughter, but did leave half of her residuary estate to her grandson, the Petitioner in this case; with the other half going to a university. The Last Will and Testament contained a no contest clause that if any beneficiary contested or attacked the Last Will and Testament or any of its provisions, any amounts going to the beneficiary would be revoked.

After Margaret’s death, unable to locate the original Last Will and Testament, the drafting attorney petitioned to have a copy admitted to probate. The Whatcom County Superior Court admitted the copy to probate and appointed a personal representative.

The Petitioner first filed a motion arguing that a copy should not have been admitted to probate. The trial court denied the motion and Petitioner did not appeal. Petitioner then filed two other motions to void a fraudulent admission of copy will, seeking removal of personal representative, obtaining full accounting, and imposing sanctions. The trial court denied both motions.

The Personal Representative then filed a motion arguing that Petitioner’s actions violated the no contest clause. The trial court granted the Personal Representative’s motion, thus barring the Petitioner from inheriting from Margaret’s estate.

Petitioner appealed to Division One of the Washington Court of Appeals contending, in part, that the probate court litigation was procedural and did not violate the no contest clause. The court noted that generally no contest clauses are enforceable in Washington. The court also noted the expansive nature of the no contest clause in Margaret’s Last Will and Testament. The court finally noted that a court may treat a motion as a will contest, even when it is labeled as something other than a contest. The court held that Petitioner’s various motions were a challenge to the admission and validity of Margaret’s Last Will and Testament.

The court’s ruling serves as a deterrence to petitioners who wish to use motions, labeled as something other than a contest, to challenge a Last Will and Testament with a no contest clause. The risk is courts will see through the labels and hold such motions violate the no contest clause. In this case, it caused Petitioner to come up empty handed, losing his right to inherit half of his grandmother’s estate.

By: Yonicio Hernandez