If all of your assets have beneficiary designations, you may be able to avoid the long process of probate. However, if any assets do not have beneficiary designations, a probate process may be necessary. If you have a will, you will have more control over how probate works. You will be able to let the judge know who should get any assets that remain without beneficiary designations. Without a will to tell the judge who you want your assets to go to, the judge will apply the state intestate laws to determine who will get the assets.
Without a will under Missouri law, the surviving spouse will receive everything if there are no surviving children of the person who passed. If there are surviving children and all of them are also children of the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse will get the first $20,000 in value of the estate, plus ½ of the balance. The children then get the remaining half. If there are any children who are not also the children of the surviving spouse, then the spouse will inherit ½ of the estate and the children will receive the other 1/2. If there is no surviving spouse, then assets would be distributed equally among decedent’s children or their descendants. If there are no descendants, then to the father and mother. If no parents survive, then to brothers and sisters or their descendants in equal parts. If there is no spouse, no descendants, father, mother, brother, sister, or their descendants, then to the grandparents, uncles, and aunts, or their descendants. If no blood relatives can be found, then the property goes to the state.
Without a will, a relative who is estranged could receive benefit from your estate. In a will, you can specifically disinherit a relative if you choose to do so. You may also choose to leave assets to a close friend, a favorite charitable organization, or your partner whom you are not legally married to. Those people would not inherit from your estate without a will because they are not a spouse or blood relative.
Another reason to avoid intestate laws is the added time it could take to probate the estate. Our firm has had experience probating an estate where the surviving relatives were cousins, some of them even being as distant as cousins twice removed. And there were over 25 of them! When an estate passes to relatives this distant, the relative may not even know the decedent. This can often make it harder to get everyone to sign documents that would speed up the process. It could lead to the need for a hearing that will cost even more money and time!
A will can tell the judge who you want to get your assets. A will can waive bond to save some of the costs associated with the probate process and you can also request independent administration that can help speed up the process. A will helps put you more in control of who gets your assets and how the probate process will work. If you want the control of what happens to your assets when you die, you should contact an estate planning attorney who can help your loved ones avoid a long and expensive probate process.