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Duress: Trusts & Contracts

Wills, trusts, contracts, deeds and other legal documents may be voided if they were executed under duress. As an initial matter, a duress claim is distinct from a claim to set aside a document based on undue influence, lack of capacity or fraud. 

To make a successful claim for duress, the plaintiff must prove that he or she was “bereft of the free exercise of his [or her] will power.” Hess v. Bennett, 554 S.W.2d 503, 506 (Mo. Ct. App. 1977). Put differently, a must person be “so oppressed from the wrongful conduct of another as to deprive him [or her] of free will.” Wolf v. St. Louis Public Service Co., 357 S.W.2d 950 (Mo. Ct. App. 1962). Conduct cannot constitute duress unless it is wrongful. Slone v. Purina Mills, Inc., 927 S.W.2d 358, 371 (Mo. Ct. App. 1996). It is not duress to do, or threaten to do, what one has a right to do. Id. Financial necessity of a party, not caused by the other party, does not constitute duress. Grant Renne & Sons, Inc. v. J.E. Dunn Construction Company, 633 S.W.2d 166 (Mo. Ct. App. 1982). Silence and acquiescence for a considerable period of time after an agreement is supposedly executed under duress may constitute acceptance and ratification of the agreement. Slone, 927 S.W.2d at 371. 

Based on these high standards, duress claims are difficult to successfully make. Contact with questions.