Written by attorney George Howard Dippel

Can I prevent someone I have disinherited from contesting my New York will by leaving them 1 dollar?

I have come across so many people who believe that you can prevent a will contest by leaving someone one dollar that I have to call this common misconception an Urban Myth. In New York State, if you do not leave an heir at least the same amount they would inherit if you died without a will, they have a right to contest the probate of your will.

This doesn't mean you can't disinherit an heir, it just means that they have the right to try to prove that your will is somehow invalid, for example, you didn't have testamentary capacity when you signed the will or that the will wasn't executed in accordance with the required legal formalities. This is often a very difficult task for the disinherited heir.

Provided your will withstands such challenges, New York State Law allows you to disinherit any heir except a spouse who is entitled to what is called an "Elective Share," regardless of what your will provides. An elective share is usually equal to one third of your estate. Other than that, you can disinherit children, siblings, parents and other heirs.

You may wish to leave an heir an amount that while significant, is less than what they would be entitled to if you died intestate, that is, without a will. In such a case, you may be able to discourage them from contesting your will by including an "In Terrorem" clause, which in Latin, literally means to frighten. Essentially such a clause states that if anyone challenges your will and loses, they forfeit any amount that they would otherwise receive under your will.

While is it is always prudent to seek the advice of professionals when planning the distribution of your estate, it is especially important to seek experienced legal counsel if you decide to disinherit that Black Sheep of the family.

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