Intestate Succession in Missouri

What happens if you die without a will? Learn about intestacy in Missouri.

Updated by , Attorney · George Mason University Law School

If you die without a will in Missouri, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state "intestate succession" laws. Here are some details about how intestate succession works in Missouri.

Which Assets Pass by Intestate Succession

Only assets that pass through probate are affected by intestate succession laws. Many valuable assets don't go through probate and therefore aren't affected by intestate succession laws. Here are some examples:

  • property you've transferred to a living trust
  • life insurance proceeds with a named beneficiary
  • funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account with a named beneficiary
  • securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • real estate for which you have a transfer on death deed
  • vehicles for which you have a transfer on death registration
  • payable-on-death bank accounts, or
  • property you own with someone else in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety.

These assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the beneficiary you named, whether or not you have a will. However, if you don't have a will and none of the named beneficiaries are alive to take the property, then the property could end up being transferred according to intestate succession.

To learn more about these types of assets, go to the How to Avoid Probate section of or read about Avoiding Probate in Missouri.

Who Gets What in Missouri?

Under intestate succession, who gets what depends on whether or not you have living children, parents, or other close relatives when you die. Here's a quick overview:

If you die with:

here's what happens:

children but no spouse children inherit everything
spouse but no descendants spouse inherits everything
spouse and descendants from you and that spouse spouse inherits first $20,000 of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the balance

descendants inherit everything else
spouse and descendants from you and someone other than that spouse spouse inherits 1/2 of your intestate property

descendants inherit everything else
parents and siblings but no spouse or descendants parents and siblings inherit your intestate property in equal shares
parents but no spouse, descendants, or siblings parents inherit everything
siblings but no spouse, descendants, or parents siblings inherit everything

(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 474.010 (2024).)

The Spouse's Share in Missouri

In Missouri, if you are married and you die without a will, what your spouse gets depends on whether or not you have living descendants—children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. If you don't, then your spouse inherits all of your intestate property. If you do, they and your spouse will share your intestate property as follows:

If you die with children or other descendants who are all from you and the surviving spouse. Your surviving spouse inherits the first $20,000 of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the balance. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 474.010 (2024).)

Example: Bill is married to Karen, and they have two grown children. Bill and Karen own a large bank account in joint tenancy, and Bill took out a life insurance policy naming Karen as the beneficiary. When Bill dies, Karen receives the life insurance policy proceeds and inherits the bank account outright—those things aren't intestate property. Bill also owns $260,000 in property that would have passed under a will, so Karen inherits $140,000 worth of that property—that is, $20,000 plus $120,000 of the balance. The two children split the remaining $120,000 worth of Bill's property.

If you die with children or other descendants who are not the descendants of your surviving spouse. Your surviving spouse inherits 1/2 of your intestate property. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 474.010 (2024).)

Example: Barrett is married to Jed and also has a 12-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. Barrett owns a house in joint tenancy with Jed, plus $200,000 worth of additional, separate property that would have passed under a will if Barrett had made one. When Barrett dies, Jed inherits the house outright and 1/2 of Barrett's intestate property—that is, $100,000 worth. Barrett's daughter inherits the remaining $100,000 share of Barrett's property.

Children's Shares in Missouri

If you die without a will in Missouri, your children will receive an "intestate share" of your property. The size of each child's share depends on how many children you have, whether or not you are married, and whether your spouse is also their parent. (See the table above.)

For children to inherit from you under the laws of intestacy, the state of Missouri must consider them your children, legally. For many families, this is not a confusing issue. But it's not always clear. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Adopted children. Children you legally adopted will receive an intestate share, just as your biological children do. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 474.060 (2024).)
  • Foster children and stepchildren. Foster children and stepchildren you never legally adopted will not automatically receive a share.
  • Children placed for adoption. Children you placed for adoption and who were legally adopted by another family will not receive a share. However, if your biological children were adopted by your spouse, that won't affect their intestate inheritance. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 474.060 (2024).)
  • Posthumous children. Children conceived by you but not born before your death will receive a share. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 474.050 (2024).)
  • Children born outside of marriage. If you were not married to your children's mother when she gave birth to them, they will receive a share of your estate if (1) you participated in marriage ceremony even if it later turned out to be void, (2) marry the mother after their birth and acknowledge they are your children, or (3) your paternity has been established by a court before or after your death. (Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 474.060; 474.070; 474.080 (2024).)
  • Children born during your marriage. Any child born to your wife during your marriage is assumed to be your child and will receive a share of your estate.
  • Grandchildren. A grandchild will receive a share only if that grandchild's parent (your son or daughter) is not alive to receive his or her share. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 474.020 (2024).)

This can be a tricky area of the law, so if you have questions about your relationship to your parent or child, get help from an experienced attorney.

Will the State Get Your Property?

If you die without a will and don't have any family, your property will "escheat" into the state's coffers. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 474.010 (2024).)

However, this very rarely happens because the laws are designed to get your property to anyone who was even remotely related to you. For example, your property won't go to the state if you leave a spouse, children, siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles, great uncles or aunts, great-grandparents, nieces or nephews, cousins of any degree, any relative to the ninth degree, or the children, parents, or siblings of a spouse who dies before you do.

Other Missouri Intestate Succession Rules

Here are a few other things to know about Missouri intestacy laws.

  • Survivorship period. To inherit under Missouri's intestate succession statutes, a person must outlive you by 120 hours. So, if you and your brother are in a car accident and he dies a few hours after you do, his estate would not receive any of your property. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 474.015 (2024).)
  • Half-relatives. In Missouri, your "half" relatives receive half of the amount of share as your "whole" relatives. For example, Debra had two sisters who had the same parents as her, Anita and Becky. She also had a brother Calvin who had the same father but a different mother. When she dies, Anita and Becky inherit 2/5 each and Calvin inherits 1/5 of the intestate property. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 474.040 (2024).)
  • Immigration status. Relatives entitled to an intestate share of your property will inherit whether or not they are citizens or legally in the United States. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 474.100 (2024).)
  • Advancements. If you gave a relative property during your lifetime, the value of this property is subtracted from your relative's share only if you stated in writing at the time you made the gift that it was an advancement or if your relative states this in writing at any time. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 474.090 (2024).)
  • Spousal misconduct. If you cheat on your spouse or abandon your spouse and live separate for at least one year before your death and don't reconcile, you will not have the right to inherit from your spouse. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 474.140 (2024).)

Learn More

To learn more about intestate succession, read How an Estate Is Settled If There's No Will.

You can find Missouri's intestate succession laws in Sections 474.010 to 474.155 of the Missouri Statutes.

For more about estate planning, go to the Wills, Trusts & Probate section of

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