How to Safeguard Your Estate with a No-Contest Clause?
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How to Safeguard Your Estate with a No-Contest Clause?

What is a no-contest clause? How can I protect my Will? This article explains the no-contest clause and how this may prevent inheritance disputes. Keep reading to learn more.

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The late blues legend, BB King, left behind a remarkable musical legacy that continues to inspire generations of musicians and fans. His music brought blues to the masses and had a profound influence on rock and roll. He invented the dance “the twist” and had a lifelong relationship with his best friend, his guitar nicknamed “Lucille.” He won 15 Grammy awards and inspired people like Eric Clapton. King died in May of 2015 after several years of health struggles. 

King’s passing left his estate in disarray, even though he had a good estate plan. King had at least 15 children and many grandchildren who he cared for. The family is now divided over whether the trustee abused King and stole their inheritance. By all accounts, King took very good care of his family while he was alive. Could anything have been done to prevent the inheritance dispute? Today we’re delving into BB King's will and exploring the benefits of incorporating a no-contest clause in your own estate plan. 

The B.B. King Case 

B.B. King had a complicated family dynamic that included multiple wives and children. His estate was valued at $40 million, but that’s probably on the low side. The value of music publishing rights has skyrocketed in recent years and King’s family believes his catalog is worth more than $200 million. With Queen’s music about to be sold for over $1 billion, the King family is probably right. King lived a long life and died at age 89. Unfortunately, at his advantaged age, his mental abilities started to fade. It was possible that he actually had Alzheimer’s Disease. King also struggled with diabetes and had several strokes. All of these complications made King a prime target for elder abuse and inheritance hijacking. But did his business partner and manager of 40 years really abuse King and ignore his wishes?

King was married twice but had at least 15 children by 15 different women. Eleven children survived their father. King set up a trust fund for his family that was designed to provide the whole family with a generous lifestyle. When he was alive, he paid for their education, visited the kids in prison, and offered financial help whenever they needed it. His longtime business manager, LaVerne Toney, was named the trustee. In 2007, Toney was given the power to control King’s medical care. In 2011, King gave Toney control over his business affairs and made him power of attorney. The King heirs were satisfied with the arrangement. However, unbeknownst to them, King changed the trust terms in 2014, leaving each family member $3,000 to $5,000 plus costs for their education and their children’s education. 

When King died, some members of the King family alleged that Toney and King’s assistant coerced him into changing the trust terms. The family alleged that the business manager was able to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars, loot King’s personal items from storage units, and isolated King from his family at the end of his life. The Las Vegas Police Department and the city’s Aging and Disability Services Division investigated the allegations and found no wrongdoing.

The resulting lawsuits split the family. Some of King’s children and grandchildren oppose the lawsuits and scoff at allegations of abuse by Toney. Some of his descendants and friends said King made a conscious decision to rein in spending by his children and grandchildren. His grandson Christopher, a former Marine, said “Those that have eaten while I live will not eat when I’m gone.” Christopher said his grandfather “was cutting things off little by little as he got older; he knew he wanted his estate to be flourishing after he was gone.”

The King estate has still not settled and that has probably prevented the estate from making bank on his music publishing. Bruce Springsteen sold his music rights for $500 million. Queen is selling for $1.1 billion. But the estate can’t act before the Will probate is finally closed.

What could B.B. King have done to prevent this fighting? He could have made separate trust funds for each family member, but that would have been complex and expensive to maintain. Perhaps a better idea was a no-contest clause. 

Understanding the No-Contest Clause 

A no-contest clause, also known as an in-terrorem clause, is a provision in a will or trust that disinherits a beneficiary who contests the document. “In terrorem” literally means “in fear” in Latin and that’s because it is meant to instill fear of being disinherited in your heirs. The clause is meant to act as a deterrent, discouraging beneficiaries from challenging the validity or terms of the estate plan. 

Here is what a standard no-contest clause looks like:  “If any beneficiary under this Will in any manner, directly or indirectly, contests or attacks this Will or any of its provisions, any share of interest in my estate given to that contesting beneficiary under this Will is revoked.”

Although some experts advise against a no-contest clause, many others believe it is valid. The courts tend to go back and forth between encouraging the clauses when the court believes they will minimize conflict and discouraging the practice when they are concerned about people being disinherited. In the King case, King could have made a strong argument that the clause was necessary because of the size and complexity of his family. 

Benefits of a No-Contest Clause

As stated above, there are benefits from a no-contact clause. The most important one is that it serves the intent of the person who is writing the Will. A no-contest clause reinforces your intentions by discouraging beneficiaries from challenging your estate plan. It acts as a safeguard, ensuring your assets are distributed as you intended.

No-contest clauses can discourage family conflicts. Contentious legal battles can strain family relationships and deplete the estate's assets. The legal fight over the King estate has yet to be decided and he has been gone for over eight years.

Saving costs and time is always an important consideration in estate planning. Litigation is financially and emotionally draining. A no-contest clause can help expedite the probate process and reduce legal expenses.

 By incorporating a no-contest clause, you promote harmony among beneficiaries and encourage amicable resolutions to any concerns they may have.

Drawbacks to a No-Contest Clause

There are also cons to having a no-contest clause. First of all, it may not be enforceable in your jurisdiction, so you have to ensure that you comply with local laws.  Second, the clause doesn’t block all legal challenges. Your heirs can still challenge the administration of the estate or trust. For example, if King’s son wants to challenge Toney’s management of the trust assets, a no-contest clause probably wouldn’t bar the claim. If someone is already excluded from the Will, then a no-contest clause won’t have an impact on their claim. For example, after King’s death, two people came forward to claim he was their father. They are allowed to sue the estate for inclusion if they can prove paternity.


B.B. King knew that his family situation was volatile. His business managers knew it too but didn’t seek the appropriate counsel to defuse the situation before it led to blowback against the estate. If this is a concern that you have about estate planning, consider leveraging a no-contest clause to minimize the risk of contentious legal battles.

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