FAQs: Wills

Frequently Asked Questions
Wills

1. Q: What happens if I don't have a will?

A: If you are the only owner listed on an asset which doesn't have a beneficiary listed, the probate court will have to supervise transferring the asset to your heir(s).

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2. Q: If I have a will, will my beneficiaries be able to avoid probate court?

A: No, this is a common misconception. If you own an asset just in your name which does not have a beneficiary on it, the asset will need to go through probate.

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3. Q: If my will says who receives my estate, why does the probate court have to be involved?

A: The court initially determines that your will is valid; sends notices to heirs that your estate has been opened in case one or more persons want to file a "will contest" in which the validity of your will is disputed; and provides differing levels of oversight to ensure that your personal representative (executor) is carrying out the terms of your will in an appropriate manner.

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4. Q: How long does it take for a will to go through probate?

A: Most estates, with or without a Will, are probated within seven to 12 months but the process can take longer.

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5. Q: Where is a will probated?

A: A will is probated in the county where the deceased resided. However, some proceedings may have to occur in other counties and states as well.

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6. Q: How can I avoid probate?

A: You can avoid probate at your death by not having any asset held just in your name without a beneficiary designation. Joint ownership, beneficiary designations, beneficiary deeds and living trusts are all options to avoid probate. Only a qualified lawyer can advise you and help you decide what is best for your situation.

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7. Q: I have a young child. Are there special provisions I can include in my will for her?

A: Yes, you can designate a guardian to care for her until she reaches age 18 in the event of your death before that time. Because she isn't 18, someone should also be named to manage her inheritance for her. You may want to include a trust for her within your will so that a trustee manages the money for her health, education, maintenance and support until she attains a certain age that you select at which time all the remaining funds will be given to her. Trusts in a will for a child may be tailored to fit your exact desires and needs and those of your child.

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8. Q: Who are my heirs?

A: Heirs are persons who receive your Estate if you die without a will and your assets are held just in your name without a beneficiary designation. Generally, the surviving spouse receives the estate if there are no children. If there are, the surviving spouse receives approximately one-half and the children receive approximately one-half. If there isn't a surviving spouse, the children receive the estate. If a child has died, his or her descendants receive his or her share. Depending on what relatives survive the deceased even distant relatives can inherit due to complex inheritance laws.

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9. Q: How much does probate cost?

A: Missouri statutes provide that the lawyer and the personal representative (executor) receive minimum compensation as set by law. The minimum fee for each is between 2 and 5 percent of the estate's assets. For a $100,000 estate, the fee is $3,300. For a $1,000,000, the fee is $26,500.

In addition, court costs apply and generally depend upon how long the estate is open and the type of estate opened. They are often less than a total of $700.

Learn More. Talk To An Estate Planning Attorney.

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To begin the estate planning process or talk to a lawyer about your legal concerns, please call 636-898-5881 or send the firm an email now to request a free initial legal consultation. Based in Chesterfield, Missouri, Hamra Law Firm, LLC, serves St. Louis County and St. Charles County.