For most people, one of the primary reasons for executing a Last Will and Testament is to reduce the likelihood of confusion or conflict with regard to their estate assets when they die. By executing a Will the hope is that the Testator’s wishes will be both clear and honored. Unfortunately, even a flawlessly drafted and perfectly executed Will does not guarantee the absence of conflict after your death. In most states, any “interested” person has the legal right to contest a Will. There is, however, one more thing that may also reduce the likelihood of a Will contest though – including a no-contest clause in the Will itself.
When a Will is submitted to the probate court the court must first make a determination that the Will is valid. At that time, any “interested” person may file a Will contest, alleging that the Will is not valid. Contrary to popular belief, simply being unhappy about what you were gifted in a Will, or the absence of a gift at all, is not grounds to contest a Will. A valid Will contest must allege that the Will itself is not valid for one of a limited number of legal reasons, such as that Testator was not of sound mind or was unduly influenced at the time the Will was executed.
Though you cannot prevent someone from challenging you Will, you can impose a penalty for doing so by including a “no-contest clause” in your Will. A no-contest clause provides that is anyone contests your Will, and they lose the contest, they take nothing from your estate. This only works, of course, if you leave them something in the Will. For example, let’s say your estate is valued at $500,000 and you have two adult children who would share in your estate under the intestate succession laws. You are concerned that your adult son will file a Will contest. In your Will you gift him $50,000 and include a no-contest clause. Your son can take the $50,000 gift and do nothing or he can file a Will contest. If he wins the Will contest he will get $250,000; however, if he loses the challenge he gets nothing pursuant to the no-contest clause.
Because no-contest clauses are not always clearly worded, and it is not always clear what will trigger one, Missouri Revised Statute 474.395 allows you to get clarification from the court beforehand if you are concerned that you might trigger a no-contest clause in a Will, stating as follows: