While most people know how important it is to execute a Last Will and Testament, many fail to do so. People offer a variety of reasons as to why they have yet to execute a Will such as the belief that they don’t need one. The truth is that everyone needs a Will. Though there are additional reasons why you should create a Will, property divisions is an important reason. Understanding how property is distributed without a Will in Missouri may provide you with the incentive to finally sit down and create your Last Will and Testament.
When someone dies without leaving behind a valid Will they are said to have died “intestate”. “Testate” refers to the estate of someone who did execute a Will prior to death. If you die intestate, your estate will be handled using the Missouri intestate succession laws. The law doesn’t like ambiguity or loose ends. For this reason, the law steps in and decides how your property will be distributed if you failed to decide prior to your death.
When you die, your estate must go through the legal process known as probate. Probate is required to ensure that the decedent’s property is accounted for and eventually transferred to the intended beneficiary or heir of the estate. Probate is also used to ensure that Uncle Sam is paid any taxes due from the decedent and/or the estate. Not all property must go through probate; however, the property that is included in the probate of your estate will eventually be gifted according to the Missouri intestate succession rules. Who received your property will depend on who survives you. Some common scenarios include:
Children but no spouse – children take everything
Spouse but no children – spouse takes everything
Spouse and descendants from that spouse — spouse inherits first $20,000 of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the balance — descendants inherit everything else
Spouse and descendants from you and someone other than that spouse — spouse inherits 1/2 of your intestate property — descendants inherit everything else
No spouse and no descendants – parents and/or siblings (depending on who survives)
Often, estate property must be sold to create the proper division of property when intestate succession rules apply. Family heirlooms or cherished assets could be lost as a result. Moreover, friends, distant relatives, such as a favorite niece or nephew, and charities will receive nothing from your estate should you die without a valid Will.
Take the time now to consult with an experienced Missouri estate planning attorney to ensure that your property is distributed according to your wishes when you die.