Are you more familiar with the British line of succession than Mississippi’s probate laws? If so, you are not alone. The tabloids in the grocery store checkout lanes do not often discuss who inherits what when someone dies without a will, while gossip about the royals are their bread and butter. However, anyone who has not crafted a formal estate plan would be wise to figure out who will inherit their metaphorical throne.
Before we go down this rabbit hole, it is necessary to point out that not having an estate plan means you will have heirs, while crafting a customized plan will leave you with beneficiaries. An heir is a legal term for someone who inherits an estate by law. Statutes and case law create heirs. Beneficiaries, on the other hand, are people who inherit according to an estate plan. If you make a proper estate plan you will have beneficiaries, not heirs. If you don’t make an estate plan, you will have heirs, not beneficiaries.
While you have complete control over who you name as a beneficiary, state law controls who your heirs are.
If you die without a will in Mississippi, state laws distribute your property as follows:
If you have a spouse and no children, your spouse will inherit 100% of your estate.
If you are married and have children, your spouse and children will divide your estate into equal shares. Children include all those who are related to you by blood, and those who have been legally adopted by you.
The division of assets between your spouse and children is done per stirpes. This means if you have two children, but one died before you did, when you die your deceased child’s share will pass to his or her heirs or beneficiaries, instead of going to your surviving child (that is unless they are their sibling’s heir).
If you have children but no spouse, your children (or their heirs/beneficiaries) will inherit 100% of your estate, per stirpes.
If you have no spouse or children, here’s what happens:
If your parents and siblings are still living, they will inherit 100% of your estate, per stirpes.
If you have no living parents, siblings, or descendants of siblings, your estate will pass to the next closest relative. Grandparents, aunts or uncles, great uncles or aunts, or cousins of any degree may inherit. Relatives of a predeceased spouse may also inherit.
If no relation can be found, the estate”escheats” to the state, which is the legal term for when the state takes possession of an estate. This property is advertised for a time through the State Treasurer’s unclaimed property program, but if nobody steps forward, it eventually goes into the state budget.
This may all sound a bit confusing because it is a bit confusing. It is a system that has its roots in the British common law, which only passed property on to “legitimate” male heirs. It is much simpler to craft an estate plan that gives exactly what you want to who you want than to gamble on the laws of intestacy.