We have all heard the horror stories that occur when someone dies without a proper will or estate plan. Michael Jackson and Prince both died without wills, and it took years to settle their estate. In fact, in April 2019, three years after his death, Prince's estate remained unsettled.
If you die without a will in Missouri, your estate is known as an "intestate estate." Since you died without directing how your estate should be administered and distributed, the State of Missouri makes those decisions for you. Under Missouri Revised Statute ("RSMo.") § 474.010, if you are married with children at the time you die and you do not have a will, your estate will split, with 1/2 going to your spouse and the other 1/2 going to your surviving children. For most people, this is not preferable, and can cause a tremendous amount of familial strife.
So, to avoid the risk of "intestate succession," it is of the utmost importance that you create a will. But what is a will? Simply put, a will is a written document, made by a living person, directing who will receive the that person's property upon their death. To create a valid will in Missouri, RSMo. § 474.320 requires that the will must:
Furthermore, the person making the will must be of sound mind and not under duress or undue influence by another person at the time of creation.
Similar to a revocable living trust, a will can be revoked or amended at any time while the testator is living, competent, and not acting under duress or undue influence by another person.
After the testator dies, his/her heirs must first find the will and then present it before a court to prove its validity. After the will is declared valid, the personal representative of the will (the person appointed by the testator to distribute and administer the will) will be tasked with "administering" the estate. The administration can be done with court supervision or independently.
Because families desire autonomy over the distribution of assets and the settling up of the testator's estate, most wills contain provisions providing for the "independent administration" of the estate. The personal representative will then pay any taxes, debts, or other claims owed by the testator, and then distribute the property to the appropriate beneficiaries.