Estate planning in Missouri doesn't need to be complicated or complex - this guide breaks down the process into five manageable steps to preparing a Last Will & Testament.
Step 1: Determine property to distribute and who will inherit it.
Most people already know which of their children, grandchildren, friends, etc., are receiving what specific property. But if you're having a tough time making those decisions, start with your significant assets like real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, retirement plans, etc. Take a piece of paper and make a list of all of your assets, then next to each asset, write who you'd like to receive each asset. List alternate or contingent beneficiaries, in case you outlive your first choice. This may seem like an obvious first step, but you would be surprised how many people don't actually know who they want to inherit their homes, car, accounts, and so on! Having this list will help you get a better idea of what your final Last Will & Testament will look like, so it's important to list out everything you'll want to distribute and who will inherit it.
Step 2: Select your executor or personal representative, and guardian/conservator (if applicable).
Decide who you would like to execute your Will, or make sure that your final wishes are carried out as you'd like. Most people choose a spouse or child, but you may also select a bank or an attorney to make sure your wishes are fulfilled. Decide if the executor will be paid, especially if you select a bank or attorney. A typical amount for payment is between 2 - 4% of the estate assets.
If you have children under the age of 18, you will need to appoint a guardian for your children and/or conservator, if they are to inherit any assets. A guardian is someone who will provide day-to-day care for your children until they reach adulthood and a conservator is someone who will manage any property or assets your children inherit. Make sure to confirm that your selected guardian & alternate guardian consent to be appointed to care for your children. Otherwise, if the guardian & alternate guardian do not consent, a Court will appoint someone.
Step 3: Draft will.
Once you have the first two steps completed, take your list and selections of executor/personal representative, guardian, and conservator (as applicable) to an attorney so she or he may prepare your will. In Missouri, depending on the complexity of your will, you can expect to spend between $200 and $700 for a Last Will & Testament, but the exact cost will depend on your attorney and the amount of work that will need to be performed to make your will exactly how you want it.
Step 4: Sign your will in front of witnesses.
In Missouri, you will need two "uninterested" witnesses to sign your Will at the same time you sign yours. "Uninterested" means that your witnesses cannot be anyone who is in line to inherit anything in the Will itself. To help ensure that your Will will be upheld in probate court, everyone should sign in the presence of a notary public at the same time.
Step 5: Store your will safely.
Three copies of your Will should be made after everyone signs it: (1) a copy of you, (2) a copy for your attorney, and (3) a copy for the executor/personal representative of your estate. If you wish to provide a copy of your Will to anyone else, you may do so. But you want to ensure that your will is stored safely and the people who will need a copy when the time comes (e.g., your attorney & executor/personal representative) will have one to ensure that your final wishes are fulfilled. Some testators opt to keep a copy of her or his will in a safe or deposit box at a bank.
If you have prepared a Last Will & Testament, but want to have a plan in place in case you are incapacitated and need someone to make decisions on your medical care or financial affairs, you may want to discuss a Medical Power of Attorney or Durable Power of Attorney to appoint someone to make those choices when you are unable to. If you are facing a terminal illness and want to make sure that your assets are used to provide for your care and your family, you may want to consider setting up a trust. Always speak with an attorney regarding your estate planning needs & goals to make sure your wishes are fulfilled. Similar to health issues, tackling a legal problem on your own may likely lead to further expenses - financial, mental, emotional, and otherwise - down the road for you or your family.
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