Estate Planning 101: A Guide to the “in terrorem” Clause

An in terrorem clause is a provision that is put into wills and certain other documents to attempt to reduce the risk of someone challenging it in court. The term comes from the Latin for ‘In Fear” because these clauses can ‘scare off’ anyone who is thinking about filing a challenge against the contract in court. While most wills and other estate planning documents won’t include this type of clause, it is important to understand what it is, and what it means for your case.

How Does an In Terrorem Clause Work?

If someone is worried that a loved one is going to challenge a will in court, they will often include an interrorem clause to try to stop this. This clause could say, for example, that John will get $10,000 from the estate, but if he challenges the will in court, he will get $1, or even nothing at all. This way, if John thinks he deserves more from the estate, he will have to weigh the risks of getting what he wants against getting nothing at all.

Am I Out of Luck if there is an In Terrorem Clause?

NO! While there can be some additional risk to contesting a will or other document that includes an interrorem clause, that doesn’t mean it is never a good idea. Texas courts have the power to throw out this type of clause should someone make a valid claim against the estate. In many situations, it is a good idea to challenge the estate to get what is rightfully yours.

Understanding the Risks

Contesting a will that has an in terrorem clause can be an effective way to respond to an unjust or illegal will. That being said, however, it is also important to remember that should you lose your case, you will typically get less than what you had before filing the suit. This is why it is so important to truly understand not just what this type of clause means, but also how to determine how likely it is that the courts will rule in your favor. This is not a decision you want to take lightly, or one that you want to make without legal assistance.

Seek Qualified Legal Representation

There is no doubt that a document with an in terrorem clause is going to have additional complications that need to be considered before contesting it in any way. If you believe that you deserve more than is listed in the will or other estate planning document, we are here to help. Contact Amsberry Law Firm to go over all your options and discuss what the right move may be in your situation.

Written by Amsberry Law Firm

Amsberry Law Firm

Mr. Amsberry is board-certified in family and labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also active in family law, estate and elder law, and business law. He is a proven litigator who has argued before the United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and earned favorable outcomes in complex, precedent-setting employment and civil rights cases. He served as a reservist assistant judge advocate general in the U.S. Army and is a sought-after lecturer and speaker on a range of legal issues.