In Missouri, as in all states, the importance of estate planning becomes clear after someone close to you passes. Good estate planning results in the protection and distribution of everything you worked so hard for throughout your life, on your own terms.
A person who puts off estate planning and dies intestate (without a will) leaves assets that will be divided and distributed according to state laws, referred to as the “laws of intestate succession”.
Missouri’s intestate succession laws prioritize the closest relatives of the deceased. First priority is held by the surviving spouse and children, or their descendants. If no such persons exist, the state directs the assets to go the parents and siblings, or their descendants. Next in line would be grandparents, aunts and uncles, or their descendants. Very rarely would there be no legal heirs, and in that rare occurrence, there are laws that govern who gets the assets.
When a person dies without a will, heirs may wind up inheriting assets from a deceased person they never even knew, let alone grieved over. Thus the term “laughing heirs.” The assets simply come as a surprise windfall.
If no relatives can be found for a person who dies intestate, the state may even get assets that do not go to creditors.
Thinking Ahead: Missouri Estate Planning Basics
Your properly drafted will, trust, and estate planning documents can:
- Ensure your valuables go to people or organizations you care about.
- Name a guardian, conservator, or trustee to take care of your minor children.
- Provide for the management of funds and property you leave to your loved ones.
A will typically names a Personal Representative (sometimes called an Executor) to carry out its writer’s wishes. Where no one is named as an executor to administer the probate estate, the probate court will appoint one.
Will Power: The Requirements for Signing a Will in Missouri
Make sure your will holds up to scrutiny by meeting Missouri will requirements.
- It must be signed in front of two witnesses.
- The two witnesses must also sign your will, in your presence.
While notarization is not a requirement for a valid will, Missouri allows for “self-proving” wills and a notary public’s seal is a necessary component of the proof of your signature. If your will is not “self proved” by having the appropriate notary wording, the Court will require the witnesses to the will to later attest that they did indeed witness the will; and if a witness is missing or has died, this can create a problem.
A self-proving will is helpful to the people who survive you, because the court can accept the will as “self proving”, meaning no one has to track down your two witnesses.
To create a self-proving will, your will must have the correct language and correct affidavit attached, and must be notarized as required by Missouri Law.
It’s Your Prerogative: Changing a Will
Under Missouri’s Probate Laws, should you need to make a change to your will, you may attach an amendment to it, which is called a “codicil”. A codicil requires all of the same witnessing and/or notarization formalities you undertook for your original will.
You may revoke or change your will by destroying it and making a new will. Here again, make your changes official with two witnesses, as you did for your original will, as well as all other formalities.
If you divorce, Missouri law automatically revokes any bequests left in a will for the former spouse, but be careful, this does not necessarily include some assets such as retirement programs that fall under ERISA, so such matters can become complicated very quickly.
What Does an Estate Planning Attorney Do—and Do You Need One?
An attorney’s assistance is vital if:
- Your assets or family dynamics are even somewhat complex,
- You want to protect your beneficiaries from themselves,
- You have a large estate or high-value assets,
- You prefer not to make an outright gift, but place conditions on the gift,
- You prefer not to pass assets to a spouse or close relative, or
- You are worried your wishes might be contested, for whatever reason.
Your attorney can advise you on the pros and cons of probate, help you plan for real estate transfers while minimizing tax ramifications, and recommend specific estate planning instruments based on Missouri law.
Estate Planning Documents to Maximize Your Assets for Your Loved Ones and Trusted Organizations
You may wonder, “What estate planning documents do I need?”
Your attorney will suggest important estate planning issues to consider, and create an estate planning checklist for you.
In Missouri, anyone can draft a will, and it sometimes may sound easy; yet there are many nuances that the average person may never consider, that can have unforeseen ramifications. Yet a will is only one estate planning document. Trusts are becoming more common than wills, and may make more sense for you, based on the size, scope, or complexity of your estate, and based on what your long term estate planning goals are.
Learn how an experienced estates and trusts attorney can assist you in Missouri estate planning. Contact our office for a complimentary consultation.