Surviving Spouse Inheritance Rights

In Missouri, there are three main benefits a surviving spouse can receive in probate: (1) certain exempt property, (2) a one year support allowance, and (3) a homestead exemption.

The surviving spouse automatically receives from the estate the family bible, one automobile, all clothing, electrical appliances, instruments, furniture, and utensils and implements. See Section 474.250, RSMo.

A surviving spouse is further entitled to a “reasonable allowance” out of the estate for his/her maintenance. See Section 474.260, RSMo. This cannot last longer than a year. It may be paid in a lump sum or in periodic installments. In determining the amount of the allowance, a court considers (a) the previous standard of living of the applicant, (b) the condition of the estate, and (c) the income and assets available to the applicant.

Finally, there is the homestead exemption. A surviving spouse may independently make a homestead exemption. The value of the homestead exemption is fifty percent (50%) of the value of the estate — but it is capped at fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000.00). See Section 474.290, RSMo.

If is important for the probate practitioner to be aware of all of a surviving spouse’s intestacy rights, particularly if there is no will, trust, or estate plan in place.

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