No contest clauses are an ever-evolving area of the probate law in California. The Court of Appeal further refined the rules governing no contest clauses in a decision issued last week, Aviles v. Swearingen (2017) 16 Cal.App.5th 485. In brief, in order for a no contest clause to apply to a trust amendment, the no contest clause must be stated in the amendment or the amendment must expressly reference the no contest clause set forth in a prior document.
The takeaway from the case for estate planners is that if your client wants a no contest clause, then you must mention the no contest clause in every trust amendment that you draft for the client. It is not good enough to simply include a no contest clause in the client’s trust and then refer back to that trust, generally, in later amendments. Each subsequent amendment must either contain its own no contest clause or must expressly reference the no contest clause of the original trust instrument.