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Examining Missouri’s treatment of no-contest clauses

| Dec 7, 2018 | Estate Planning |

Those currently engaged in the estate planning process in Saint Charles no doubt grapple with the concern that not all of their beneficiaries will be satisfied with how their estates will be distributed. The hope is that even with certain people being disappointed, no disagreements will arise that are serious enough to hinder the dispersal of the estate. Some might suggest that one preparing a will should be pre-emptive in preventing disputes by included a no-contest clause. Many often question, however, whether such clauses are even enforceable.

Missouri state law defines a no-contest clause as any provision of a will that rescinds a donative transfer to or the fiduciary appointment of a potential beneficiary who challenges its validity. The general purpose of such a clause is to deter any disputes over an estate by threatening punitive actions. Those who believe that estate disputes arise simply due to the greed of beneficiaries may have no problem with such a provision. Yet this line of thinking overlooks the fact that there are often very valid reasons why one would question the terms of a will.

Fortunately, the state recognizes this, and does allow for a way for one to make their concerns about a will known without automatically invoking a no-contest clause. Section 474.395 of Missouri’s Revised Statutes says that one can file a petition with the court inquiring as to whether their questioning of a will (either in its entirety or certain elements of it) would trigger the will’s no-contest clause. If the court finds that there are grounds to question the wills validity, further inquiries may be permitted with the one making them worrying about being disinherited.

No-contest clause regulations typically address wills. However, a bill was introduced during Missouri’s 2018 legislative session that would apply these regulations to trusts, as well.