Some Missouri Wills and Missouri Trusts contain provisions or wording that attempts to penalize a person for contesting a will or trust. These provisions are called “no-contest clauses” or “in terrorem clauses.”
But just because a will or trust contains a no-contest clause does not mean it will automatically apply. These clauses are only enforceable under certain, specific situations. There are countless situations where a “no-contest clause” has no effect in a will contest or trust contest.
With this, there are a few things to keep in mind:
First, a “no-contest clause” can only apply when a person contests a will or trust. When considering whether a “no-contest clause” applies, the term “contesting” means: “call[ing] into question the legal sufficiency” of the will or trust.(Winston v. Winston, Mo App. 2014).
Second, under Missouri Law, even if you are contesting a will or trust, there are numerous exceptions that will prevent the application of a “no-contest clause.”
Third, a “no-contest clause” does not apply when a person is contesting action taken by a trustee or personal representative pursuant to a will or trust.
Fourth, if you succeed in your challenge against the validity of a will or trust, in most cases, the “no-contest clause” likewise is invalid and cannot be used against the challenger of the will or trust.
Moreover, specific to Missouri trust contests, if you are worried that your legal challenge might trigger application of a no-contest clause in a Missouri trust, the Missouri Uniform Trust Code can help. Under the Trust Code, you can ask a court to review the trust and tell you whether the no-contest clause is enforceable in advance of your trust contest case.(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 456.4-420.1)
So keep in mind, just because a will or trust says it cannot be contested, doesn’t mean it’s true.