Most estate plans include a will, whether they are simple or complex. A will lists your assets, names an executor to manage and distribute those assets, and names the heirs who will receive the estate. When you manage your estate through a will, and not a trust, the estate still enters probate court after your death. While in probate, the will can be contested by interested parties if they believe it is invalid for some reason. These claims may be a genuine belief, or they may be maliciously motivated.
If a will contest is successful, your estate will be distributed according to a prior will or according to state succession laws. This may not follow your wishes for the distribution of the estate. By understanding the basis of will contests and how you can work to avoid them, you can more effectively safeguard your will. That way, you can be confident that your wishes will be followed.
Who Can Contest a Will in Columbia, Missouri?
Under state law, you must be considered an interested person to contest a will. An interested person has legal and/or financial interest in the estate, and they stand to benefit if the contest is successful. This includes:
- Beneficiaries of the current will or a prior version of the will
- Heirs, such as relatives, who would receive part of the estate through state inheritance laws
- Creditors who have unpaid debt
In some circumstances, individuals with a fiduciary interest in the estate can contest the will. This may include an executor or trustee managing the estate. If an individual without a legal or financial stake in the will attempts to contest it, it will not be successful.
Grounds to Contest a Will
Interested parties cannot challenge a will simply because they disagree with the contents. For the court to allow a will contest, there has to be a legally valid reason why the will is somehow invalid or unenforceable. The grounds to contest a will include:
- There is a new version of the will that was previously undiscovered.
- The creator of the will, or testator, revoked the will prior to their death.
- There are technical issues with the will. In Missouri, a will must be signed in front of two witnesses, who must also sign the will. If the will is not properly signed, or otherwise not executed as a valid will, the contest will be successful.
- A third party had undue influence over the testator and coerced or manipulated changes to the will. These changes benefited the third party or harmed an intended beneficiary.
- The will is a forged document or forged signature.
- The testator believed that they were signing a different document.
- The testator signed the will under duress or force.
- The testator gave assets to a fake charity or to a beneficiary under false pretenses.
- The testator did not have the testamentary capacity to understand the scope of their estate and familial ties, or they did not understand the significance of making a will.
When an interested party files for a will contest, they have the burden of proof to show the court that the will is invalid.
How to Protect Your Will From Contests
Although there is no way to completely prohibit a will contest, there are steps you can take to make it more difficult to contest a will or to limit a contest’s chances of success. These include:
- Begin your estate planning early. By creating a will when you’re younger, invalidity based on a lack of testamentary capacity is less likely to be successful. These claims are more common and more likely to succeed when the testator creates a will near the end of their life.
- Work with an attorney. An attorney can help you create a valid and legally enforceable will. They can also use other techniques that are unique to your situation if you worry that the will may be contested.
- Update your will. When the court can see a record of past wills, will contests are less likely to succeed.
- Create a no-contest clause. Although this doesn’t prevent contests, it does limit the inheritance of any party who attempts to contest the will and fails.
Q: What Are the Grounds for Contesting a Will in Missouri?
A: You can’t contest a will simply because you feel that you were owed an inheritance or more assets than you received. There has to be a legal reason for a will to be found invalid. In Missouri, grounds to contest a will include:
- New will
- Improperly signed
- Lack of testamentary capacity
- Undue influence
- Fraud or forgery
To contest a will, an individual must also be qualified to do so. They must be an interested party with a legal or financial stake in the estate.
Q: What Is Undue Influence in Missouri?
A: Undue influence is a factor that can be used to contest the validity of an individual’s will. It alleges that a third party had excess power over the creator of the will and manipulated them to alter their will. This unreasonable influence allowed the third party to benefit from the new will, or it disenfranchised an individual who should have been a beneficiary.
Q: What Is the Time Limit to Contest a Will in Missouri?
A: The statute of limitations, or time limit to file for a will contest, is one of the following:
- 6 months after the date the will entered or was rejected from probate
- 6 months after the date that creditors were informed of the individual’s death
The 6-month countdown begins at whichever of these events happens later. If the contest is not filed by this deadline, the court will not accept it.
Q: How Can You Avoid Probate in Missouri?
A: The most effective way to keep your estate from entering probate court is to create a revocable trust. By creating a revocable trust, you still retain control over the assets in a trust during your life, and you can alter the terms and beneficiaries at any time. Because a trust is its own separate legal entity, the assets in it do not pass to state ownership when you die. Instead, the trustee you name retains ownership, and they have the job of inventorying and distributing the assets in the trust. These assets avoid probate court, saving your loved ones time and money.
Protect Your Interests With an Estate Plan
Contact Stange Law Firm to create an estate plan that protects your interests and benefits your loved ones.