Assisting Clients Draft and Execute Wills throughout the St. Louis Metropolitan Area and Illinois
A will is the traditional way to divide and distribute the property you have at death. The property you have at death makes up what lawyers call your “estate.”
The law regulating wills is complex and must be followed exactly. Every lawyer can recount numerous situations where a will was not properly written and a court refused to enforce it. Drafting a will yourself without an attorney will mean there is a chance that your wishes will not be honored.
When Should You Draft or Re-Draft a Will
Anyone with assets should draft a will, as it is never too early to start the process of estate planning. Here are some of the reasons you should re-draft a will:
- You move to a different state.
- Your property or money changes in value or nature.
- Your family changes. For example, if you get married or have a child through birth or adoption. Also, if a family member dies or becomes disabled.
- Your wishes change
As a general rule, it is advisable to review and update your will on a regular basis. How often it is appropriate for you to do so will depend on your specific situation, and your lawyer will help you make this determination.
Requirements for Last Will and Testament
There are many requirements for a valid will. An attorney will make sure that your will follows all the requirements. As an example, some of these technical requirements include:
- That the person making the will is 18 years old and of sound mind. The person making the will is called the “testator.”
- That the will is signed by the testator and signed by two witnesses.
- That if you have a spouse, he or she receives a certain portion of your estate. This requirement does have exceptions.
It is advantageous for wills to be “self-proving,” which speeds up the process in court. Special steps must be taken to make the will self-proving. If a will does not conform to the rules for proper execution of the document, a court may refuse to enforce the will.
What If You Do Not Have a Will or a Court Refuses to Enforce Your Will?
Lawyers and the courts refer to a person who dies without a will as “dying intestate.” When you die intestate the state’s generic laws will apply and will direct the court on how to divide your estate.
In Missouri, for example, the laws for intestate estates set forth specific provisions that provide a surviving spouse with certain “exempt property,” a “one-year support allowance,” a “homestead allowance,” and, if applicable, a “family allowance.” After payment of claims and statutory allowances, the remainder of the estate is distributed:
- If there are no children, then your entire intestate estate would be distributed to your surviving spouse;
- If there are children, your surviving spouse receives the first $20,000 of the intestate estate plus one-half of the balance of the intestate estate;
- Next, the remaining one-half of the balance of the intestate estate would be distributed equally to your children or their descendants (your grandchildren);
- If there are no children or their descendants, then your intestate estate would go to your father, mother, siblings or their descendants (your nieces and nephews) in equal shares;
- If none, then to your grandparents or aunt and uncles or their descendants in equal shares;
- If none, then to your great-grandparents or their descendants, and so on.
As you can see from the above, the law continues to set forth the classes of distant relatives who would inherit your estate if you died intestate. Most people’s estate falls within the first two or three groups listed above. In rare circumstances, if no family can be found, the estate is given to the state.
Intestate laws can be complicated if you have children with more than one person or have re-married.
These intestate rules would also apply if a court decided not to enforce your will because it did not follow the rules and formalities required under the law.
Contact an Experienced St. Louis Wills Attorney
Hiring an attorney to draft your last will and testament will give you the confidence that your wishes will be carried out and that your family will be able to settle your affairs without unnecessary delay. We work with clients throughout the Missouri and Illinois, including the City of St. Louis, and the surrounding Missouri counties of St. Louis, St. Charles, Lincoln, Jefferson, Franklin and Crawford; and the Illinois counties of Madison, St. Clair and Monroe, to name a few. Call our office today at 314-647-8910 for a free consultation.