If a person dies owning assets in his name alone, his estate typically must go through probate before it can be distributed. If the decedent owned property jointly, that property may pass automatically to the other owners without probate. During probate, the Mississippi court appoints a representative to act for the estate; often the person nominated in the will. That representative gathers the decedent’s assets, pays his final debts and distributes the remaining assets. In Mississippi, if the person appointed as the estate’s representative is not an attorney, one must be hired to act as an advisor.
Probate with a Will
When the deceased leaves a will, the court must determine its validity, usually before anything else happens in the probate case. If the will fully complies with Mississippi requirements, it is considered valid and the court can appoint the executor nominated in the document. The executor will manage the estate’s property and, after the decedent’s debts are paid, distribute the decedent’s property to the beneficiaries named in the will.
Absence of Will
When a person dies without a will -- or his will is invalid -- he is said to have died intestate, and Mississippi’s laws of intestacy direct how his property is to be distributed. Under these laws, a person who inherits property is called an heir instead of a beneficiary, but the estate administration process is very similar to the process used when the decedent has a will. Since there is no will to guide the court’s appointment of an executor, the court must select someone for this role, usually the decedent’s spouse. This person is called an administrator rather than an executor, but has many of the same responsibilities.
Mississippi law divides heirs into four groups who may inherit: spouse and children; parents, siblings and descendants of siblings; grandparents, uncles and aunts; and other blood relatives. The court looks at each group, in order, to determine the first group that contains someone who survived the decedent. The individuals in that group are called heirs at law and share the decedent’s estate. For example, if the decent left a spouse and children, the court would name these individuals the decedent’s heirs at law, and the spouse and children would receive equal shares of the estate.