In Missouri a will is supposed to be written by the testator and is supposed to represent what they want to happen with their estate after they pass away. When a testator passes away and their will is submitted to the probate court, which in Missouri is the Probate Division of the Circuit Court, the assumption is that the will reflects the true last wishes of the testator. However, Missouri does have a procedure to follow if someone believes that the court should reject a will because it’s “fake” or in some other way invalid. They can initiate a type of probate litigation called a will contest. A will contest is a fight over the validity of a decedent’s will.
Who Can Contest a Will in Missouri
It stands to reason that someone who goes to court in an attempt to prevent a will from being probated is someone who feels that they are being denied an inheritance that they have a right to or that they were under the impression that they would receive. The law looks at a will contest in a similar way. Under Missouri law, only those who have a financial interest in the matter the right to object to a will. That narrows the list of possible objectants to:
- Beneficiaries. Anyone who is a beneficiary of the submitted will has the right o initiate a will contest. Of course, the only reason a beneficiary would object is if they believe that they have a right to a greater share of the estate under a different will or in the absence of a will under intestate succession.
- Beneficiaries from a prior or later will. Beneficiaries named in another will would have the right to object. Their position would be that there is another will that was executed before or after the submitted will that should be probated instead. Of course, in that prior or later will, the objectant was left a greater inheritance.
- Heirs. Those who would be entitled to inherit in the absence of a will also have standing to initiate a will contest. Typically, intestate heirs who object to wills do so because they were disinherited. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 473.083
When a Will Can Be Contested in Missouri
In Missouri the deadline for contesting a will is within 6 months of when a will was accepted or rejected for probate, or 6 months after the first publication of the notice that the personal representative (executor) was appointed, whichever is later. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 473.083.
Grounds for Contesting a Will in Missouri
Anyone who initiates a will contest believes that they should have received more than the submitted will provided. However, objectants must base their objections on more than being surprised or angry at the size of their inheritance. After all, it is not unheard of for testators to intentionally disinherit close family members. Missouri law provides that objectants must state legally acceptable grounds for challenging a will such as:
- The testator did not have the capacity. A testator must have the legal ability to make a will. A will is a legally enforceable document. Not everyone has the legal capacity to make a will. Those who are under 18 years old are not yet adults and are not legally able to execute will. In addition, those who suffer from a mental incapacity are also not legally able to make a will. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 474.310
- The testator was under undue influence. It is illegal to manipulate someone into making a will. Undue influence generally occurs when a testator is vulnerable, and the manipulator has a trusting and dependent relationship with the testator. For example, the testator may be vulnerable due to failing health or due to being isolated from family and friends. The manipulator might be a caregiver or the testator’s only companion. If the manipulator took advantage of the situation and swayed the testator into making a will they would not have otherwise made, the will would not be valid.
- The will was improperly executed. There are very specific rules that must be followed in order to properly execute the will. These rules provide safeguards to ensure that the will is valid and that there is evidence after the death of the testator that the will is valid. The rules provide that the will must be signed by the testator and that there must be at least 2 witnesses who must also sign the will. If these rules are not followed, the will may be invalidated. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 474.320
- There is a more recent version of the will. There are several ways to revoke a will, including executing another one. The production of a will with a date of execution after the submitted will may mean that the submitted will was revoked. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 474.400
Consequences of a Will Contest in Missouri
If the objectant prevails and the court finds that the will that was submitted is invalid, either another will that is proven to be valid will be probated or the estate would be intestate. In that case the law of intestate succession would apply.