How to Navigate Will Contests in Missouri: Understanding the Legal Landscape

In the realm of estate planning, a Last Will & Testament often stands as a testament to one’s final wishes. Yet, the process is not always straightforward, particularly when disputes arise over the validity of a will. In Missouri, as in many other states, contesting a will involves navigating a complex legal landscape. Understanding the procedures and considerations involved is crucial for anyone contemplating or facing a will contest.

Grounds for Contest: Will contests in Missouri typically hinge on several grounds, including:

  • Lack of testamentary capacity: If the testator was not of sound mind or lacked mental capacity at the time of creating the will.
  • Undue influence: When someone exerts pressure or manipulates the testator into altering their will to benefit them unfairly.
  • Fraud or forgery: If the will was obtained through deception or if signatures were forged.

Time Limits and Legal Process: In Missouri, there’s a statutory time limit for contesting a will, usually within six months after the will has been admitted to probate. The process begins with filing a petition with the appropriate court, often requiring legal representation. The court then schedules hearings where evidence is presented to support the contesting party’s claims.

Burden of Proof: In a will contest, the burden of proof typically rests on the party contesting the will. They must provide sufficient evidence to substantiate their claims of incapacity, undue influence, or other grounds. This often involves presenting medical records, witness testimony, or other documentation to support their case.

Resolution: Ultimately, it’s up to the court to determine the validity of the will. If the court finds the will to be invalid, it may invalidate part or all of the document. In some cases, a previous version of the will may be upheld if one exists. The court’s decision is based on the evidence presented and legal arguments made by both parties.

Seeking Legal Guidance: Contesting a will can be emotionally taxing and legally complex. Therefore, seeking guidance from an experienced attorney who has been involved in will contests or specializing in probate and estate litigation is crucial. Only an attorney will provide invaluable advice, navigate the legal process, and advocate for your interests in court when everyone else opposes your efforts.

Conclusion: Will contests in Missouri demand a thorough understanding of the legal procedures and requirements involved. Whether contesting a will or defending its validity, individuals must be prepared for a potentially lengthy and contentious legal process. By seeking knowledgeable legal representation and understanding the grounds and procedures for contesting a will, individuals can navigate this challenging terrain with greater clarity and confidence.

Todd Miller is a monthly contributor and regularly writes and speaks on various legal topics including estate planning, probate, and elder law. He formed the Law Office of Todd Miller, LLC, 1305 Southwest Blvd., Suite A, Jefferson City, Missouri in 2006. He has been recognized as 2016 Adviser of the Year by GolfInc; Golf Tax Consultant of the Year by Boardroom Magazine three times; and “10 Best” attorneys by the American Institute of Family Law Attorneys and “10 Best” attorneys by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys. Mr. Miller earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1999 and graduated with honors from Lincoln University in 1991. You may find him at www.toddmillerlaw.com (573) 634-2838 or on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.