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One of the most important parts of planning for your family's welfare is deciding what will happen to your estate and your healthcare in the future. These plans fall under Missouri's estate planning laws, which help secure you and your family's rights should anything happen to you.
There are plenty of tools to help you with estate planning in Missouri. Whether you live in St. Louis, Springfield or Kansas City, you have access to legal estate planning resources like wills, living trusts, advance directives and more. Using LawInfo's Missouri estate planning articles, you can learn about the legal ins and outs of securing your family's future and connect with a qualified local attorney.
Your estate includes personal and real property owned solely by you. That doesn't include marital property, community property or property that's jointly owned by another person. Personal property is anything you own that isn't real estate or attached to real estate, including economic property like money, bank accounts, etc. Real property is land, buildings and anything that is attached to real estate like machinery.
The distribution of your estate after your death can be controlled using a variety of methods, including wills, trusts, insurance or financial accounts with survivorship rules. Every method of posthumous distribution retains exclusive control of how they distribute specific assets, meaning that you can't simply change beneficiaries of a certain asset between two or more distribution methods.
For example, you can't promise your brother your car in your will if you already promised it to your nephew in a living trust. Your first wish in your living trust would take precedence until it is changed.
Most Missouri residents who consult with estate planning attorneys are concerned with making sure certain people benefit from their estate when they die. Of the several methods you can use to do this, few are as legally secure as a Last Will and Testament. (See the Missouri Probate Code § 474.310 to 474.530.)
You can use a will to name specific beneficiaries for certain assets, name a guardian for minor children and assign a personal representative ("executor") who will carry out your will after your death. A will is a legally secure of managing your estate's distribution because it requires probate, which is when a court oversees the execution of the will. This ensures that the right people receive the right assets and your final debts and taxes are paid accordingly.
The downside to using a will is that the probate process isn't a private affair. Your will shall be on public record. The probate process also adds to the costs of distributing your estate through a will.
If you were to die without a will, your estate would be distributed using an inheritance hierarchy established in Missouri's intestacy laws. (Dying without a will is called dying "intestate.") When this happens, only family members are eligible to inherit your estate. If you don't have any living relatives, your estate escheats (i.e. transfers) to the state government.
Your surviving family will receive specific portions of your estate depending on who is alive and eligible to an inheritance. In general, inheritance follows this hierarchy according to survivorship:
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified estate planning lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local estate planning attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.