Inheritance Law in Missouri

Missouri inheritance law sets forth how a person's estate will pass when he dies. A person usually creates a will to name beneficiaries and a state's requirements must be met in order for the will to be probated. If the decedent did not leave a will, his estate will pass according to Missouri intestacy law.

Wills

Missouri law sets forth the requirements for a valid will. First, the testator, a person making a will, must be at least 18 years of age and mentally competent. The will must be in writing and the testator must sign her will. The will must be signed in the presence of two witnesses who may be called to testify during probate to verify that the testator was competent and signed his will voluntarily.

Elective Share

Missouri law does not allow a person to completely disinherit his spouse. If a surviving spouse is left out of a decedent's will, whether intentional or accidental, she has a right of election. Missouri Revised Statute 474.160 permits a spouse to inherit one-third of the estate if the decedent had children and one-half of the estate if there are no surviving descendants.

Exceptions to Willable Property

Not all property can be included in a will. For example, if a decedent has a life insurance policy, the proceeds are automatically paid to the named beneficiary after the decedent's death. The decedent cannot use his will to change the beneficiary or name an alternate beneficiary to a life insurance policy. Additionally, if the decedent owned any property jointly with one or more other people, the surviving owners automatically inherit equal percentages of the decedent's share through the right of survivorship.

Intestate Law

Missouri intestacy laws set forth the order in which a decedent's heirs will inherit his estate if he dies without a will. Under Missouri Revised Statute 474.010(1), the surviving spouse is the first to inherit from the decedent's estate. If there are no surviving descendants, the spouse inherits the entire estate. If the descendants are also the spouse's children, the spouse will receive $20,000 and half of the estate, but if the descendants are not the spouse's children, the spouse inherits half of the estate. 474.010(2) states that the decedent's descendants inherit the remainder of the estate in equal shares after the spouse inherits, or the entire estate if there is no spouse. If there are no descendants, the decedent's parents will inherit. Siblings are entitled to inherit next if the parents are already deceased. More distant relatives can inherit if there are no other heirs. Lastly, under 474.010(3), if the decedent does not have any surviving heirs, the estate will escheat (pass) to the state.

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