What are Will Contests in Missouri?

A Missouri will contest is a challenge or objection to the validity of a Missouri will. Will contests are typically brought by a person who has been left out of a will entirely or is left less inheritance under the will than they expected to receive. People contest a will when they believe that the will does not reflect the intent of the person who made the will.

Time to Contest a Missouri Will

A will may be challenged or contested in whole or in part. A Missouri will contest is governed by Mo. Rev. Stat. § 473.083. Under this statute, the time limit to contest a will is within six months “after the date of the probate or rejection thereof by the probate division… or within six months after the first publication of notice granting letters on the estate of the decedent, whichever is later….”

Reasons to Contest a Missouri Will

There are three primary reasons why a person might challenge or contest a will:

First, a person does not believe the will was properly signed or witnessed.

Second, a person thinks that the maker of the will did not have the mental capability (“lack of capacity”) to make the decisions contained in his or her will.

Third R, a person thinks that the maker of the will was being improperly influenced by another people or persons (“undue influence” or “duress”).

Proper Signature and Witnesses

In Missouri, a will must be signed and the signature must be witnessed by two people. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 474.320. If these requirements are not met, than a Missouri will can be contested as invalid.

Lack of Capacity

To make a valid will in Missouri, the will maker must

have a mind and memory enough to make a will, testator should be able at the time to understand the ordinary affairs of life, the value and extent of his property, the number and names of the persons who were the natural objects of his bounty, their deserts with reference to their conduct and treatment of him, their capacity and necessities. He should have active memory enough to retain all these facts in his mind, without the aid of others, long enough to have his will made. Otherwise the law takes from him power to dispose of his property by will.

Lewis v. McCullough, 413 S.W.2d 499, 505 (Mo. 1967).

Undue Influence or Duress

In a Missouri will contest, undue influence is “overpersuasion or coercion which substitutes the will of one person for the free will of the other.
Ruestman v. Ruestman, 111 S.W.3d 464, 478 (Mo. App. 2003). In a will contest action, three elements give rise to the rebuttable presumption that the testator was unduly influenced by the beneficiary: (1) a confidential and fiduciary relationship between the testator and the beneficiary; (2) a substantial bequest to the beneficiary; and (3) an active role by the beneficiary in procuring execution of the will. Id.

When challenging a will based on undue influence, the mental and physical condition of the will maker is highly material on the issue of undue influence as it would indicate whether the will maker was susceptible to undue influence.
Ruestman, 111 S.W.3d at 479.

Factors considered in determining the existence of undue influence in the making of a will include:

(1) an unnatural disposition, (2) an onset of solicitude of the [testator] by the proponent, (3) a change in predetermined testamentary intent, (4) unusual circumstances surrounding the execution of the will, (5) hostile feelings of the beneficiary toward the expected recipients, (6) remarks of the beneficiary to the [testator] derogatory of contestants, (7) the source of the [testator’s] property being such as to make the disposition to the beneficiary unlikely, and (8) recitals of the will itself indicates undue influence.

Ruestman, 111 S.W.3d at 479.

Result of Successful Will Contest

If a person is successful in challenging the entirety of a single will, then the deceased person’s property will be distributed according to the either (1) the most recent, probated will,
McMullin v. Borgers, 761 S.W.2d 718, 720 (Mo. App. E.D. 1988); or (2) laws of intestate succession. Brandin v. Brandin, 918 S.W.2d 835, 840 (Mo. App. E.D. 1996).

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