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What Happens When Someone Dies Without a Will?

September 30, 2020

A person who passes away without leaving a valid will is said to die intestate. A will is a legal document that specifies how an individual wants to leave his or her property – which includes bank accounts, real estate, and personal effects such as cars, books, or jewelry – upon passing. The process of assembling and distributing a person’s assets is called probate. If you pass away with a valid will, then your will would be submitted to probate where your named executor would administer and distribute your estate according to the terms of your will.

In Missouri, if you die without a will specifying how you want your property to be distributed during the probate process, the state will name an executor for your estate who will then determine who your heirs are according to the law and thus who will receive your property. This is called intestate succession.

Understanding Intestate Succession

In Missouri, during the course of intestate succession, the state will appoint an administrator for your estate, then pay off any funeral expenses, remaining debts, and the cost of administration of your estate. The remainder of your property will be distributed as follows:

  • If only a spouse survives you, your spouse inherits your estate.
  • If only your children survive you, your children inherit your estate.
  • If both your spouse and your children survive you, your spouse will inherit 1/3 of your estate and the remaining 2/3 will be divided among all your children.
  • If there is no spouse or surviving children, your parents will inherit your estate.
  • If there are no parents, children or a spouse, your siblings will inherit your estate.
  • If there are no heirs, which is an uncommon situation, the state will get your property.

There are many other situations that may arise in the course of determining your heirs, which are set out in Missouri statutes. Contact our Branson estate planning lawyer if you have additional questions.

A Note About Stepchildren

Unlike some other states, Missouri recognizes stepchildren as heirs. This means that if you pass away intestate, and you have not legally adopted your stepchildren, they can receive anything from your estate when you die, but only if the deceased stepparent has no surviving relatives and there are no other options except to let the estate pass to the State.

Not all of your property will be subject to intestate succession, however. Any life insurance proceeds, property held in trust or any other accounts or properties that have a transfer-on-death clause or named beneficiaries will not go through the probate process.

Work With Our Branson Estate Planning Lawyer

Having a valid will in place is only one part of your estate planning, but it is an essential part if you want to ensure that your property and assets are distributed according to your wishes. It can be difficult to work through these matters, which is why it is important to speak with an experienced Branson estate planning lawyer who can help you. Contact us today.