Disinheritance Clauses in Wills/Trusts

“No contest” (or in terrorem) clauses are increasingly relevant in probate, trust, estate and will litigation. The classic no contest clause provides that if a person contests the validity of a will or trust, he or she is disinherited and receives nothing by way of inheritance. The obvious purpose of the clause is to reduce the chance of litigation.

What is a “contest”? While it will depend on how the estate document is written, a suit to enforce a trust is generally not a “contest.” Labantschnig v. Bohlmann, 439 S.W.3d 269 (Mo. Ct. App. 2014) (beneficiary’s actions to require the trustee to complete and file an accounting and distribute the assets pursuant to the terms of the Trust not a “contest”). These types of provisions are strictly construed because the law disfavors forfeitures. Id. at 273-274.

More recently, however, the Missouri Supreme Court has seemingly broadened the scope of no contest clauses. In Knopik, a disinheritance clause applied to anyone who (1) contested the validity of a trust, (2) made a claim against a trustee for maladministration o breach of trust, or (3) attempted to remove the trustee for any reason. Knopik v. Shelby Investments, LLC, 597 S.W.3d 189, 190-91 (Mo. 2020). The beneficiary in that case filed a trustee removal claim and triggered his/her disinheritance.

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