At Affordable Legal Services, our attorneys assist clients with a variety of estate planning tasks. Often, this includes the creation of a last will and testament. Everyone needs to have a will, and it is very rare that we would create other estate planning documents without first creating a will. It is an important part of any estate plan – big or small, complex or simple.
Did You Know That Missouri Already Has a Plan for You?
For those of you out there who have not yet created your will or trust, please realize one very important fact: a plan has already been written for you. Missouri law has a very detailed plan regarding what will happen to your assets and your estate if something happens to you. That plan will be carried out in a probate court.
However, you have the opportunity during your lifetime to make your own personal plan that, for the most part, will supersede the plan that Missouri has for you. Please think of it in the following way:
Missouri law acts as the default set of plans. So if you don’t have an estate plan, the law will dictate what happens to your entire estate. If you do have an estate plan, your plan will control your estate, superseding Missouri law. However, if any part of your plan is vague or does not address something important, Missouri law will control the items not addressed by your plan, filling in the gaps.
Make Your Own Plan
By creating a will with the help of our attorneys, you are exercising your opportunity to make important decisions about your life, your body, your family, and your estate, rather than letting state law determine the outcome. In your will, you can dictate what will happen with respect to a variety of items, including the following:
- Who will be the beneficiaries of your estate (i.e., who will inherit your stuff)?
- Who will be the guardian (and make legal decisions) and conservator (and make financial decisions) of your minor children if you are not around?
- Who will be the personal representative (executor, person in charge) of your estate if you become incapacitated?
- What do you want done with your body or remains after your death (funeral, cremation, special burial instructions, etc.)?
- Would you like to set up a trust fund for your minor children, so that their other parent or legal guardian won’t hold their inheritance? This will allow you to ensure that an impartial third party will hold the money for your child.
There are many other decisions that you can make in your will and many reasons to have a will. Everyone should create a last will and testament, embracing the opportunity to make their own plan rather than relying on the plan created by the State of Missouri.
Wills Do Not Avoid Probate
We cannot in good conscience ever write about wills without including one important piece of information. Every week a client asks, “Doesn’t a will avoid probate?”
So, to be clear: a will does NOT avoid probate court.
In fact, a will is only given effect inside of a probate court. It can’t accomplish anything unless it is filed in a probate court. Think of a will like a boat and probate court like a body of water. Without water, a boat will simply sit there and do nothing. It needs to be loaded into a lake, river, pond, stream, or some other body of water. Probate court is the only body of water available. Without it, the boat (i.e., the will) is useless.
However, this does not mean that everyone who writes a last will and testament will have their estate end up in probate court. Many people create a will in conjunction with other legal documents when forming their estate plan. For example, they may have payable-on-death (POD) bank accounts or transfer-on-death (TOD) cars. Perhaps they formed a trust that owns property, and the trust will give away their property upon their death. The will would give away anything that was still titled into the name of the deceased person after their death; but if nothing was still titled in the deceased person’s name, it would go unused.
So while everyone should have a will, not all wills are actually used. Any will that does get used must be filed at the appropriate county probate court, as that is the only place that it can be “used.”
For a more in-depth explanation of probate and to learn how it works, check out the multiple webpages dedicated to probate law on the Piatchek Law Firm’s primary website. Please click here to view those pages.
Planning Your Family’s Estate
Are you ready to begin the estate planning process? Talk to one of our attorneys about your concerns today. To do that, simply call or email us now or use the “contact our firm” box on the right-hand side of the screen. We offer free initial consultations for estate planning and may be available for evening and weekend appointments. We can also arrange a home visit if you are unable to travel to our offices.