What is a will, what makes it legal, and what are its advantages?

In Missouri, a will is legal documentation that entitles a beneficiary to receive assets when an estate owner dies. Every state has its own set of laws that govern how wills and estates are to be managed. An estate can be described as property a decedent owns in name alone while the executor is a personal representative appointed in the will who is tasked with carrying out the disbursement of the estate’s assets.

The estate owner, often referred to as the testator, must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind in order to make a will. In order for the will to be legal in Missouri, it must be signed by the testator in the presence of two competent witnesses, who are also required sign the will. If a will was properly executed in compliance with another state’s laws, courts in Missouri will recognize the will’s legitimacy.

The will maintains its legal status until it is modified or canceled by the testator. In order to be recognized as a legally binding document, it must be reviewed by the courts and complete the probate process. Probate is required in order to transfer the decedent’s assets to the beneficiaries. If no will was drafted before death, the decedent’s property may be transferred to the most immediate relatives; otherwise, the state may assume control of the estate. Having a will helps people save money and provides them with more control over the disbursement of assets.

People who need assistance with drafting a legal will may benefit from having an estate planning lawyer guide them through the process. The lawyer could help them ensure that their assets will be protected and transferred to the appropriate parties after they pass on.

Source: Missouri Bar, “Probate Law Resource Guide“, November 06, 2014

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