Counterattack: Tips for Thwarting a Will Contest

From contentious relatives to scam artists, wills are not immune to the threat of a contest. If you have an inkling such a fight could be in your estate’s future, here are some ways to limit the risk.

A man in a suit wears boxing gloves.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The news is full of stories about the famous who didn’t bother to make a will to dispose of their substantial fortunes. And though many others did make a plan, various issues with their testamentary documents have led to costly and protracted litigation. Some examples:

  • Beatle John Lennon’s will failed to mention his first son, Julian Lennon.
  • Actor Gary Coleman had a 1999 will probated, with a 2005 will and a 2007 holographic codicil later surfacing that left all to his third wife, from whom he was divorced when he died.
  • Hotel magnate Conrad Hilton’s will left $100,000 to his daughter with Zsa Zsa Gabor and the bulk of the rest of his millions to charity. The daughter filed suit and lost.
  • Railroad heiress Huguette Clark left two wills, 42 days apart, for her $400 million estate, with the second will disinheriting family members named in the first.
  • Singer James Brown left much of his estate to charity, with little passing to his wife and children.

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Linda Kotis, Esq.
Of Counsel at Ivins, Phillips & Barker, Chartered

Linda is Of Counsel at Ivins, Phillips & Barker. She advises clients on forming and revising their estate plans and analyzes estate, income, generation-skipping transfer, and gift taxation matters for high-net-worth individuals and families. Linda’s significant experience also includes analysis of complex state trust administration and non-tax issues, charitable gift planning and real property transfers. Prior to joining IPB, Linda practiced law for seven years at an AmLaw 100 firm. During her tenure in the Estates, Trusts, and Tax Planning Group, she gained significant experience with the administration of large and complex estates, formation of private foundations, and high net worth guardianships. She is the author of articles on trusts, estates, and tax topics and has spoken at the ABA, DC Bar, and breakfast briefings on fiduciary administration issues.