One of the most common questions in estate planning is: “What happens if you die without a will?” An individual who dies without a will is said to die intestate. A person who dies intestate will have his or her estate distributed according to Missouri’s intestate succession law.
If there is a surviving spouse, Missouri law states that the surviving spouse shall receive:
(a) 100% of the intestate estate if there is no surviving issue (child) of the decedent;
(b) The first $20,000 dollars in value of the intestate estate, plus 50% of the balance of the intestate estate, if there are surviving issue, all of whom are also issue of the surviving spouse;
(c) 50% of the intestate estate if there are surviving issue, one or more of whom are not issue of the surviving spouse (i.e. step-children).
However, if there is no surviving spouse, Missouri law states that the estate shall be distributed as follows:
(a) To the decedent’s children, or their descendants, in equal parts;
(b) If there are no children, or their descendants, then to the decedent’s father, mother, brothers and sisters or their descendants in equal parts;
(c) If there are no children, or their descendants, father, mother, brother or sister, or their descendants, then to the grandfathers, grandmothers, uncles and aunts or their descendants in equal parts.
If there is no surviving spouse or kindred of the decedent entitled to inherit, Missouri’s intestate succession law provides additional rules for distribution of the estate.
Importantly, the estate of an individual who dies intestate must pass through probate. Probate is undesirable for several reasons. First, probate is expensive. Any estate (assets such as real estate and personal property) that passes through probate will lose a portion of its value due to court costs and fees. In many cases, that can mean thousands of your hard-earned dollars passing to the government and other parties simply because of poor planning.
Probate is unfavorable for other reasons. Probate takes a long time: a minimum of 6 months, but often over 1 year. Probate is also public: your assets and debts are public information to any interested party. Finally, your family has limited control over the process.
If a person dies with a will only, they are said to die testate, and, while the will determines distribution, probate will still be necessary. Therefore, in addition to a will, we recommend maximizing the use of non-probate transfers of real and personal property, and/or a revocable living trust. Each of these devices avoids probate, helping to save you money and time.
If you have additional questions about estate planning or are ready to have an estate plan prepared, call or come visit with the estate planning attorneys at the Paul Law Firm. Consultations are always free!