Dying Without a Last Will and Testament in Missouri

Laws of Intestacy Succession in Missouri

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The intestacy succession laws found in the Missouri Probate Code dictate who inherits a deceased person's probate estate when a Missouri resident dies without having made a last will and testament. These laws would also apply if the decedent lived elsewhere, but owned real estate or certain other types of assets located within the state of Missouri.

The term "intestacy" means that the estate will proceed through the probate process without the guidance of a last will and testament to clarify the decedent's final wishes. It doesn't mean that probate isn't required.

Here's a summary of the Missouri intestacy succession laws in various situations.

Survived by a Spouse and Descendants

The surviving spouse would inherit the first $20,000 of their deceased spouse's probate estate, plus one-half of the balance of the estate, if the decedent were survived by both a spouse and descendants who were all born to the marriage. The children and grandchildren of a direct descendant would inherit their parent's share of the estate if the descendant didn't survive the decedent.

Children of a descendant are also descendants of the deceased, and they would inherit their parent's share of the estate "per stirpes." This is a Latin term that translates to "by the plant," and it provides that a bequest move on to the next generation in equal shares when the original beneficiary predeceases the decedent.

This provision wouldn't apply, however, if any of the deceased's descendants weren't also the children of the surviving spouse. In other words, the deceased person had a child or children from a prior marriage or relationship.

The surviving spouse would inherit one-half of the probate estate in this case, and the descendants would inherit the remaining one-half, also per stirpes, because some of the deceased person's descendants.

The surviving spouse would inherit 100% of the probate estate if there were no descendants, and the descendants would inherit 100% of the probate estate per stirpes if there was no surviving spouse.

Missouri law dictates that an individual must live 120 hours longer than the deceased to be considered to have survived them.

When There's No Spouse or Descendants

It's possible that a deceased individual wouldn't be survived by any of these individuals, neither a spouse nor any descendants: children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on through ensuing generations. The deceased's siblings and parents would inherit in this case.

The parents and siblings will inherit the deceased person's probate estate in equal shares if one or both parents were alive and the deceased had one or more siblings. The siblings would inherit the entire probate estate per stirpes if neither of the decedent's parents were living.

More Distant Relatives

The probate estate would pass to grandparents, aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles, cousins of any degree, or the children, parents, or siblings of a predeceased spouse if the decedent wasn't survived by parents, siblings, or descendants of siblings. 

The only way to be sure that your estate will go to a non-relative in Missouri is to leave a will, expressing these wishes.

The entire probate estate would "escheat" and pass to the state in the unlikely circumstance that the deceased person wasn't survived by any family members.

Will You Inherit From a Missouri Intestate Estate?

What will you inherit if your relative dies without leaving a last will and testament in Missouri? Even if you determine that you're entitled to an intestate share of your relative's estate based on this information, it's possible that you won't inherit anything under two circumstances.

Your relative might have left all non-probate property. It's either contained in a living trust, which bypasses probate, or it passes to a living beneficiary by operation of law. This would be the case with assets such as retirement accounts with beneficiary designations or a property titled in the names of two or more individuals with rights of survivorship.

Assets that pass to a living beneficiary by operation of law wouldn't be included in the deceased's probate estate, so Missouri's intestacy laws would not apply to them.

It's also possible that the debts your relative owed at the time of their death exceeded the value of their probate estate. This would make the estate insolvent. All property would have to be liquidated and all cash would go to the deceased's creditors to pay off their debts to the extent possible.

NOTE: The information contained in this article is not legal advice and it's not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect the most recent changes to the law. Please consult with an attorney for current legal advice.