Missouri Intestate Succession: How to Understand the Basics

Intestate succession refers to the legal process of distributing a deceased person’s assets when they have not left behind a valid will. Each state in the U.S. has its own set of laws that dictate how intestate succession works. In Missouri, these laws are found in the Missouri Revised Statutes, specifically in Chapter 474. Here is an overview of Missouri intestate succession to help you understand how assets are distributed when there is no will.

  1. Who Inherits Under Missouri Intestate Succession?

In Missouri, the intestate succession laws prioritize certain relatives over others when distributing assets. The order of inheritance typically follows this pattern:

  • Spouse and Descendants:
    • If the deceased person was married but had no descendants (children, grandchildren, etc.), the spouse inherits everything.
    • If there are descendants, the spouse shares the estate with them. The surviving spouse’s share depends on whether the descendants are also descendants of the surviving spouse.
  • Descendants:
    • If there is no surviving spouse, the estate goes to the deceased person’s descendants. This includes children, grandchildren, and so forth.
  • Parents and Siblings:
    • If there are no descendants, the estate may pass to the deceased person’s parents.
    • If the parents are not alive, the siblings may inherit.
  • Other Relatives:
    • If there are no surviving spouse, descendants, parents, or siblings, more distant relatives may inherit, such as nieces, nephews, or grandparents.
  • Escheat to the State:
    • If no relatives can be found to inherit, the estate may escheat, or revert, to the state of Missouri.
  1. Spousal Share in Missouri

In Missouri, the surviving spouse has certain rights to the deceased spouse’s estate, even if there are descendants. The spouse’s share depends on whether the descendants are also descendants of the surviving spouse.

  • Spouse and Descendants:
    • If the deceased person has descendants who are also descendants of the surviving spouse, the spouse inherits the first $20,000 plus half of the remaining estate.
  • Spouse and No Descendants:
    • If there are no descendants, the spouse inherits the entire estate.
  1. Children’s Share

Children of the deceased are entitled to a share of the estate, even if there is a surviving spouse.

  • Equal Shares:
    • If there is a surviving spouse and one child, the spouse and child would typically each inherit half of the estate.
  • Multiple Children:
    • If there are multiple children, they will divide the estate equally among themselves.
  1. No Will? Consider Probate

When a person dies without a will in Missouri, the estate usually goes through probate court. Probate is the legal process of administering the estate and distributing assets to the rightful heirs. It can be time-consuming and costly, so having a will can help avoid this process and ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes.


Understanding Missouri’s intestate succession laws is crucial for anyone who does not have a will or participates in settling the estate of someone who died without one. While the state’s laws provide a default way to distribute assets, they may not align with everyone’s wishes. To ensure that your assets go to the people you choose, it is always best to have a valid will in place.

If you find yourself dealing with intestate succession or probate in Missouri, it may be helpful to consult with an attorney who specializes in estate planning and probate law to guide you through the process.

Todd Miller is a monthly contributor and regularly writes and speaks on various legal topics including bankruptcy, estate planning, probate, and elder law. He formed the Law Office of Todd Miller, LLC, 1305 Southwest Blvd., Ste. A, Jefferson City, Missouri in 2006. He has been awarded the Substantial Contributor Attorney Award by the Missouri Bar and ranked as one of the “Top Attorneys in Missouri” by The Legal Network. Mr. Miller earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1999 and graduated with honors from Lincoln University in 1991. You may find him at www.toddmillerlaw.com (573) 634-2838 or on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.