A last will and testament is an important step in planning the distribution of your estate (real and personal property) upon your death. Missouri wills permit the testator, the person writing the will, to provide for a spouse, children, other loved ones, and pets after his death as well as to name a personal representative for the estate.
Not to be confused with a will, a Missouri living will provides instructions should you become incapacitated and incapable of making decisions regarding your medical care.
Do You Need a Last Will and Testament?
Although a last will and testament is not legally required, without a will, the laws of intestacy determine the distribution of an estate's assets. Because the outcome may not coincide with the decedent's wishes, it is generally advisable to create a last will and testament.
In addition to providing the opportunity to direct asset distribution, a Missouri last will and testament form also allows the testator to make a charitable gift, create a trust for any person, name a legal guardian for minor children, or create a “pet trust” in order to provide for the care of an animal after its owner’s death.
Before the terms of a Missouri last will and testament can be effectuated, the will must be proven in probate court. Probate is the court-supervised process of distributing the estate of a deceased person.
The last will and testament of the decedent must be filed with the Probate Division of the Circuit Court within one year of the testator’s death. Missouri offers a simplified probate process for estates valued at $40,000 or less.
Intestacy: Dying Without a Will
Someone who dies without a will is called “intestate,” which invokes the strict laws of intestacy. In Missouri in the absence of a will, a surviving spouse inherits the entire estate unless the decedent also has descendants shared with the spouse, in which case the spouse takes the first $20,000 of the estate plus half the balance. If the decedent has descendants not shared with the spouse, the spouse takes half of the estate.
If there is no surviving spouse, descendants, or parents, other relatives, including siblings and grandparents, will inherit depending on the closeness of the relation.
Exceptions to Ability to Distribute Property
Not all property can be distributed according to a will. Some exceptions include the following:
- Property owned in joint tenancy with right of survivorship
- Property owned as tenants in the entirety
- Life insurance policy and retirement account proceeds
- Elective share of surviving spouse
Form a Last Will in Missouri
The basic requirements for a Missouri last will and testament include the following:
- Age: The testator must be at least 18 years old or a minor emancipated by adjudication, marriage, or entrance into active military duty.
- Capacity: The testator must be of sound mind.
- Signature: The will must be signed by the testator or by someone else in the testator’s name in his presence, by his direction.
- Witnesses: A Missouri will must be signed by at least two witnesses who should not be beneficiaries, in the presence of the testator.
- Writing: A Missouri will should be in writing, but oral wills are valid in some circumstances.
- Beneficiaries: A testator can leave property to anyone.
Other Recognized Last Wills in Missouri
Missouri recognizes nuncupative (oral) wills and holographic (handwritten) wills under specific conditions.
Changing a Missouri Last Will and Testament
A Missouri will may be changed at any time by codicil, which must be executed in the same way as a will.
Revoking a Missouri Last Will and Testament
The revocation of a Missouri will can be accomplished by executing a subsequent will or by “burning, cancelling, tearing or obliterating ” the document by either the testator or by someone else at his direction in his conscious presence. A nuncupative will may be revoked by another nuncupative will.
In Missouri, if the testator gets divorced after executing a will, provisions in favor of the ex-spouse are revoked.
When you are ready to make a last will of your own, LegalZoom can help. We can help you start a last will online in three easy steps.