The person writing a will -- called a testator -- can leave his property to almost anyone, including his spouse and children, but under Missouri law, he cannot completely disinherit his spouse. Missouri spouses have the right to an elective share, meaning a surviving spouse may elect to receive the share of her spouse's estate allotted to her by state law rather than the share she would have received under the terms of the will. If the deceased spouse has children or other lineal descendants, the surviving spouse’s elective share is one-third of the estate’s value after all debts are paid. If the deceased spouse did not have any descendants, the surviving spouse’s elective share is one-half.
Missouri also allows real estate to pass outside the will by a beneficiary deed, sometimes called a transfer-on-death deed. This type of deed names a beneficiary who will inherit the property automatically, without probate, when the owner dies. It does not give a beneficiary any rights to the property before the owner’s death, however, and the owner can cancel the deed at any time.
If a Missouri testator wishes to leave real property to several beneficiaries, such as his children, he can pass it to them as tenants in common or as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. If the beneficiaries own the property as tenants in common, one beneficiary will not inherit from another beneficiary if that beneficiary dies while he owns the property. When beneficiaries own property as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, they will automatically inherit a deceased beneficiary’s share when he dies. For example, if a decedent leaves his property to his daughter and son as joint tenants, the son will inherit the whole property if the daughter dies. If the decedent left the property to them as tenants in common, the daughter’s share would be distributed according to her will instead.
If the testator leaves real property that is subject to a mortgage signed before the will was made, the beneficiaries will inherit the property subject to the same mortgage. In Missouri, the mortgage doesn’t disappear just because of the decedent’s death. Beneficiaries can choose to keep the property and pay the mortgage or sell the property and split the proceeds. However, if the mortgage was signed after the will was made, the mortgage may be paid from the rest of the testator’s estate, depending on the language of the will and mortgage agreement.