A last will and testament is an important estate planning tool every adult should have to protect their family. Find your answers to common questions about what Missouri law requires when creating an original will.
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What If I Die Without a Will in Missouri?
When a person with a will dies, their will outlines how to distribute personal property, real estate, and assets to the heirs and family members. If a decedent has no will, they die “intestate,” and Missouri intestacy laws apply.
Under intestate succession, if there is a surviving spouse or children, they inherit the estate. If not, the next of kin, such as parents, siblings, or grandparents, inherit. If no next of kin exists, your estate goes to the state.
So, if you have a partner but are not married or a stepchild that you have not adopted, they may be left out of your estate.
What Does a Will Do?
A Missouri will lets you decide who manages your estate, who inherits your property and possessions, and who cares for your minor children. Here are some typical provisions you might make in your will:
- Name a personal representative or executor who locates your assets, submits your will to the probate court, and follows the terms of your will
- Identify and give away personal property and real estate to your beneficiaries
- Name guardians for minor children
- Name caregivers for pets and provide funds for their care
- Makes charitable donations
Having a will streamlines the probate process. Because you made these decisions, a court does not have to, which saves your loved ones time and money in probate court.
What Doesn’t a Will Do?
While you can distribute many assets in your will, some assets, accounts, and policies transfer outside of a will. These non-probate assets pass according to the terms of their own legal documents, for example, a transfer on death beneficiary on a bank account or a named beneficiary on a life insurance policy. Non-probate assets may include:
- Funds in payable on death or transfer on death bank accounts
- Retirement accounts, pensions, 401(k)s, IRAs, and Keoghs
- Life insurance payments (to beneficiaries other than to the estate itself)
- Property owned as joint tenants with right of survivorship
- Trusts, including living trusts and assets owned by trusts
Make a list of all your accounts and policies and check they have the correct beneficiary designations. You will want to name a backup beneficiary if your primary beneficiary dies before you. Any assets, accounts, or policies without a beneficiary go into your probate estate.
Who Can Make a Will in Missouri?
There are certain requirements to meet to make a valid will in the state of Missouri.
- Age: The testator, the person making the will, must be age 18 or older or an emancipated minor by court order, marriage, or entry in active military duty.
- Sound Mind: The testator must have a sound mind. Being of sound mind means the person making the will understands what they own, who their natural heirs are, how they want to distribute their property, and that they are signing their will.
A testator must also have a sound at the time they make and sign the will. Missouri residents with concerns about their testamentary capacity should consult an estate planning attorney for legal advice and assistance.
Does Missouri Have a Statutory Will?
No. Missouri does not have a statutory will, a specific format you must use to create an original will. You can either make your own will or hire an estate planning attorney in your area, such as St. Louis or Kansas City, for legal advice. Many choose self-service options such as FindLaw Legal Forms and Services that help you draft a will according to Missouri law.
What Types of Wills Does Missouri Accept?
Most wills are typewritten or printed and signed by the testator. There are some other options to be aware of.
- Handwritten Will: A will written in the testator’s own handwriting is valid in Missouri if the testator signs it or directs someone to sign it in his presence and before two witnesses. However, a holographic will which is one written in the testator’s handwriting but does not have witnesses, is not valid in Missouri.
- Oral Will: An oral will, or a nuncupative will, is a will spoken by the testator. An oral will is valid only if made by a testator who is in imminent peril of death and dies from that peril. The testator must declare it to be their will before two disinterested witnesses. One of the witnesses must put the will in writing within 30 days of the declaration and submit it to probate within six months of the testator’s death. This type of will can only dispose of personal property up to a $500 value.
- Electronic Will: Electronic or digital wills, wills signed, witnessed, or notarized through electronic means, are not valid in Missouri.
While handwritten and oral wills are an option in certain circumstances, they are more likely to be challenged in court, so it is best to avoid them if possible.
Can I Make My Own Will in Missouri?
Yes. You can make your own will in Missouri. You do not have to hire an attorney to draft your will. If you know who you want to handle your estate, what assets you have, and who you wish to receive those assets, you can make your will. The advantage of online will drafting services, such as FindLaw Legal Forms and Services, is that they allow you to customize and update your will whenever you want.
How Do I Make My Will Valid in Missouri?
There are several requirements to make a will valid in Missouri.
- Signature: The testator must sign the will themselves or direct someone else to sign it for them in their presence.
- Witnesses: Two disinterested witnesses must witness the testator’s will. An interested witness is one who receives a bequest through the will. The will is not invalid if a witness is interested unless there are two other disinterested witnesses. In that situation, the interested witness may only receive what they would through intestate succession. So it is best only to use disinterested witnesses.
- Notary: There is no requirement that a will in Missouri have a notary public attest to the signature on your will.
- Self-Proving Affidavit: This is a separate sworn statement attached to the will in which the testator and witnesses swear that the testator signed the will before the witnesses and was competent to make a will. A notary signs it. This statement can be used in probate court in place of witness testimony to authenticate the document.
Can I Disinherit My Spouse in Missouri?
If you leave your spouse out of your will or specifically disinherit them in your will, the spouse has what is called a right of election. A right of election is a share of your estate your spouse may claim if left out of your will. The surviving spouse is entitled to one-half of the estate if there are no children or grandchildren or one-third if there are. They are also entitled to a one-year allowance.
Can I Disinherit My Children in Missouri?
Yes. You can disinherit your children in Missouri. The best way to do so is to state in your will that you are doing so specifically. Otherwise, a judge could determine that you forgot to include them. Minor children are entitled to one year of support from your estate.
What Estate Planning Documents Should I Have in Missouri?
In addition to an original will, you should also consider these helpful estate planning documents:
- Power of Attorney. A power of attorney allows you to appoint someone you trust as your agent to make financial decisions for you if you cannot. Your agent has a fiduciary duty to act in your best interests. You determine what powers to grant your agent and when your agent’s authority begins and ends.
- Health Care Directive. A health care directive or living will allows you to name someone to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself. It also allows you to make your wishes known about life-sustaining treatment and end-of-life care. If you don’t leave your wishes, the burden is on your loved ones to figure out what you want.
Fortunately, making a valid will and creating other Missouri estate planning documents is easy with online estate planning templates.