Most people do not know the specifics of Missouri’s intestate succession laws, but they may make a lot of assumptions about them. Intestate succession refers to the order in which a person’s estate will pass if they die without a will. Many individuals may assume that if they die without a will, their closely related relatives will become beneficiaries of whatever they leave behind. This true in part, but it does not describe the true problem of letting intestate succession manage the distribution of one’s estate.

For example, intestate succession allows a spouse to collect a large share of their spouse’s estate upon death. However, that share can change depending on if the decedent had kids if the decedent shared those kids with their spouse at the time of their death, and other factors. When a decedent passes without a spouse and without children, the pattern of intestate succession becomes one of following chains of ancestry.

How is an estate distributed?

For example, the following generally outlines how an estate may be distributed if the decedent did not draft a will:

  • To the decedent’s parents, and if they have no living parents, then to the decedents’ siblings and the siblings’ children.
  • If there are no ancestors at this level, then the estate may pass up to the next generation of grandparents and aunts and uncles, and then to their children.
  • If there are no ancestors at this level, then the estate may pass up to the next generation of great-grandparents and so on, until there are relations to which the estate may pass.

Missouri has an interesting provision in its intestate succession laws that allows an estate to pass to the family of a prior spouse if that prior spouse was married to the decedent when the prior spouse passed away. If no relations or former families can be located, a decedent’s estate may pass to the state.

For some, intestate succession may be sufficient to ensure that one’s estate is given to the people who are intended to receive it. However, decedents cannot cut out relations, or give to charity, if they do not prepare wills and other documents for estate planning. This post does not provide legal advice, but it does discuss an important legal topic that may be further investigated with the help of estate planning attorneys.