Many individuals put a lot of thought and effort into their estate plans, even when it is a simple estate plan with only a will. This hard work and careful planning can be for nothing if your will is contested after your death. There are several steps you can take to help avoid will contests, including working with an estate planning attorney in St. Louis. One option to limit contests against your will is to create a no-contest clause.

What Is a No-Contest Clause?

A no-contest clause is an estate planning option that can help discourage contests of wills and trusts. These provisions, also called in terrorem clauses, are not able to prohibit individuals from contesting a will. Instead, a no-contest clause states that if any beneficiary files a contest against the will and the contest fails, that beneficiary will lose all or part of their inheritance.

Some beneficiaries contest wills based on genuine grounds, but others contest a will out of spite toward other family members or irritation over the assets they were given. These beneficiaries can cover their intentions under legitimate grounds for contesting and waste the time, energy, and money of all other beneficiaries. A no-contest clause could potentially make these individuals reconsider frivolous claims against the will, as they would likely lose their interest in the will.

If you disinherit a beneficiary, a no-contest clause will not be as effective. The individual has nothing to lose by contesting the will. Similarly, leaving a beneficiary a very small amount is unlikely to prevent them from contesting. If you are concerned about specific heirs or beneficiaries contesting your will out of malice, talk with an attorney about how you could prevent this action through a no-contest clause.

A no-contest clause can also refer to other actions taken by beneficiaries, such as challenging the administration of a will. Like will contests, if the beneficiary is unsuccessful in challenging how an executor manages a will, the beneficiary will lose some or all of their inheritance.

Who Can Make a Will Contest?

Missouri only allows interested parties to make will contests. This means that the individual has a legal or financial stake in the estate as a beneficiary, past beneficiary, heir under intestate law, or creditor. The interested party must also have valid grounds to contest the will. These may include:

  • There were technical errors in how the will was created or signed.
  • The document or signature is forged.
  • A third party had undue influence over the creator of the will, causing changes.
  • The creator of the will did not have the necessary testamentary capacity.

Why Would You Want to Avoid Will Contests?

Will contests can ruin the plans that you made for your estate. If a contest is successful, the will that you created is voided, including the no-contest clause that you included within the will. The court will either use a prior version of your will that is still valid, or it will distribute the estate based on the state’s inheritance laws if there is no valid will.

Even if they are unsuccessful in overturning your wishes, will contests can still add complications to the process of probate. This increases the duration of probate, which then increases its costs and the time that your loved ones must spend in probate court. These costs cut into the benefits that you left for them in your estate. Your intended beneficiary also can’t receive their inheritance until the will contest is resolved.

Avoiding will contests can be beneficial for both your intentions for your estate and the interests of your loved ones and beneficiaries.


Q: What Does a No-Contest Clause in a Will Mean?

A: A no-contest clause in a will means that an unsuccessful contest by a beneficiary will limit or eliminate the interest that the individual has in the will. While a no-contest clause cannot prevent will contests, it can limit them. A no-contest clause, unfortunately does not have any effect on those who are not beneficiaries in the will.

A no-contest clause is most effective at preventing frivolous or spite-motivated claims by beneficiaries who are unhappy with the amount they received in the will and are filing on bad faith grounds.

Q: How Long Do You Have to Contest a Will in Missouri?

A: In Missouri, you have six months to contest a will. This six-month period either begins:

  • From the date the will was probated or rejected by the probate court
  • From the date when creditors were told of the deceased’s passing

This statute of limitations starts from whichever of these events occurs later. If you have the standing and the grounds to file a will contest, you must file it within this time period, or else the court will reject it.

Q: How Can You Contest a Trust in Missouri?

A: You can contest a trust in Missouri if you have the standing and the grounds to contest it. Some common grounds that trusts are contested on may include:

  1. Undue influence, where another party influenced the creator to change things to favor the influencer
  2. Fraud, such as a forged signature, a forged trust, or if the creator was defrauded to give assets to a party
  3. Lack of capacity, where the creator did not understand their assets and personal relationships when they made their trust

Q: What Is the Time Limit for Probate in Missouri?

A: The time limit to file an estate with the probate court in Missouri is within one year of the date of the individual’s death. If the deceased’s estate is not administered through probate or outside the probate methods, it will be distributed by intestate laws.

There is no time limit on how long probate must take, and the time it takes to administer an estate through probate varies. More complex estates, assets, and will instructions are likely to take longer to resolve. An estate can be closed when creditors are paid, and assets are distributed.

Protecting Your Will and Estate Plan in St. Louis

No-contest clauses are one effective way to limit the likelihood of will contests. However, there are many other steps that can be taken, such as working with an estate planning attorney, ensuring that your will is legally valid, and constantly reviewing it to ensure that it matches your wishes and is enforceable. The attorneys at Stange Law Firm can help you create an enforceable estate plan. Contact us today.