A person who dies with a valid Last Will and Testament is said to have died “testate” while someone who dies without having executed a valid Will is said to have died “intestate”. If you die intestate in St. Louis Missouri, the Missouri intestate succession laws will determine who receives your property and how that property is transferred.
While a Will can accomplish other goals as well, the most common reason for executing a Will is to determine who will receive your assets after your death. If you die intestate, therefore, you give up the ability to decide who will receive your estate property when you die. Instead, the State of Missouri gets to decide who gets what. Not all property, however, passes through the intestate succession laws. Assets that are not included in the probate process will pass directly to the beneficiary. Life insurance proceeds, retirement benefits, and funds held in a “payable on death” account, for instance, are not required to go through probate. Probate assets, however, will pass according to Missouri intestate succession laws as follows:
- Spouse and no children – everything to spouse
- Children and no spouse – everything to children
- Spouse and descendants from you and that spouse– spouse gets first $20,000 plus half the remainder and descendants inherit everything else
- Spouse and descendants from another person – half to spouse and half to descendants
- Parents and siblings with no spouse or children – all inherit in equal shares
- Parents only – parents inherit everything
- Siblings only – siblings inherit everything
Aside from losing the ability to decide who will inherit from your estate if you die intestate, you also lose control over the future of estate property. Because the laws of intestate succession require heirs to inherit an exact percentage of the value of your estate the court that oversees the probate of your estate may be required to sell estate property in order to liquidate funds to ensure that you are heirs inherit the exact percentage that they are entitled to under the law. Unfortunately, this could mean that your family home has to be sold in order to liquidate the estate.
Of course, the best way to ensure that your estate assets are preserved and passed down according to your wishes is to create a comprehensive estate plan. At a bare minimum you should work with your estate planning attorney to execute a Last Will and Testament which will allow you to decide who will receive your estate assets when you die.