An estate plan is an important set of documents to have, no matter what stage of your life you are in. For most people, planning for their future incapacity or death is overwhelming and can make them put off creating a plan. However, even a very basic estate plan can provide benefits. An in-depth estate plan can protect you, your loved ones, and your assets. A dedicated and detail-oriented estate planning attorney in St. Louis can help you create an estate plan that addresses your needs.

What Is a Basic Estate Plan?

For most people, a basic estate plan is a last will and testament. A will is a legal document that enables you to list the heirs to your estate, the guardians of any minor children you have, and the executor of your will, who is responsible for distributing the estate. A will is important to help your estate avoid being distributed according to intestate succession laws, which may not reflect how you want your assets divided.

A will is a very important document, but it does not fully protect your estate, your heirs, or yourself. This document is in the public record, and it is not a legal entity, so your estate will still enter probate court upon your death. Probate is the state process for distributing assets, and it can be costly and time-consuming for your heirs. It is also easier for a will to be contested than a more comprehensive estate plan, which lengthens probate. You need more comprehensive estate planning documents to avoid probate court.

Comprehensive Estate Planning

In addition to a will, a comprehensive estate plan is made up of several documents, including:

  1. Trusts: Like a will, a trust can list your assets and name the beneficiaries for those assets. However, trusts have additional benefits, including the ability to keep those assets out of probate court. They can also hold assets for certain beneficiaries until certain conditions are met, such as turning 18. You can create multiple trusts and name a trustee to oversee the trusts, manage and protect the assets, and distribute them upon your death or upon the outlined conditions being met.
  2. Medical Directives: Medical directives are often part of a living will. These are a set of instructions and wishes for your own medical care in case you become incapacitated, incompetent, or otherwise unable to make those important decisions yourself. Directives could include where you want to receive healthcare and what treatments and procedures you do and do not consent to have.
  3. Durable Power of Attorney: This places a trusted family member, friend, professional, or other individual in charge of your financial decisions, such as paying bills, if you are unable to make those decisions. Without this document, loved ones must petition the court to make these decisions on your behalf, which could take significant time.
  4. Medical Power of Attorney: This places a trusted individual in charge of making medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to. Often, a medical POA is responsible for interpreting and following the wishes of your medical directives.

The exact documents could vary depending on your individual needs and the needs of your intended beneficiaries. By working with an attorney, you can create documents that are legally enforceable, limiting the chances of your estate plan being found invalid.

Comprehensive estate planning is useful for many individuals, as it provides you with some stability and certainty of care for you and your estate. If you have any assets, have children, or want to protect assets from the state, a comprehensive estate plan can help you.

Benefits of Establishing a Comprehensive Estate Plan

There are several ways you can benefit from an estate plan, including:

  1. Avoiding probate court and helping limit the stress of your loved ones
  2. Protecting your personal interests and well-being if you become incapacitated
  3. Safeguarding the assets in your estate and keeping them out of public record
  4. Lowering the likelihood of familial disputes by making clear and legally valid documents


Q: How Much Does Estate Planning Cost in Missouri?

A: Estate planning with a qualified attorney can range from several hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. The more documents, and the more complex such documents are, that you include in your estate plan, the more it will increase the costs of creating one. If you have a complex estate or high-value assets, this will also increase the complexity and cost. The cost will also depend on the attorney you work with, their experience, and if they charge a flat fee or hourly rate.

Q: How Much Does an Estate Have to Be Worth to Go to Probate in Missouri?

A: The full probate process only applies to estates worth more than $40,000 in Missouri. Smaller estates go through a simplified probate process if they meet the requirements. Although simplified probate is often less strenuous and time-consuming, it can still be expensive for heirs, and it may limit the benefits they receive from the estate. The most effective way to avoid probate or simplified probate is with a comprehensive estate plan.

Q: Why Should Everyone Have an Estate Plan?

A: An estate plan allows you to safeguard your assets and estate, protect your loved ones and their unique needs, and provide for your own care if you become incapacitated. An estate plan is beneficial for nearly anyone with any amount of assets, with children, with intentions to provide assets to any heirs, or who wants their loved ones to avoid probate. An estate plan gives you confidence in your wishes and well-being and that your estate will be distributed as you intend.

Q: Do You Have to Go Through Probate If You Have a Will in Missouri?

A: Yes, your estate must go through probate if you have assets and a will. A will, if it is found valid, ensures that your estate is not distributed according to intestate succession law. It also provides guardian determinations but offers no additional protection. Upon your death, the assets still enter the jurisdiction of the state and begin the probate process. Small estates can go through a simplified probate process. The only way for your estate to avoid probate is to establish a trust or use other comprehensive estate planning documents.

Safeguarding Your Interests

To get the most benefits from a comprehensive estate plan, you want an experienced and skilled attorney to help you determine what you need and how to create your estate plan. Contact the attorneys at Stange Law Firm today to see how we can help you draft and review an effective estate plan.