When a person dies in Montana, his property passes according to his will, based on how property is owned or through intestate law. The inheritance laws set forth requirements for a will, who is eligible to be named as a beneficiary and the steps that must be taken before the estate is distributed to the decedent's heirs.
Certain property will pass to a beneficiary automatically upon the death of the decedent. For example, if the decedent held joint property, like real estate or a bank account, the surviving joint owner(s) automatically inherit the decedent's share upon submission of a death certificate. Additionally, if the decedent owed a life insurance policy, the company will pay the proceeds to the beneficiary the decedent named in his policy upon purchase.
In Missouri, any person who is at least 18 and has full mental capacity can sign a will. The will must be made voluntarily and a writing is required. The will should be typed, though holographic or handwritten wills are recognized in limited circumstances. The person who made the will, the testator, must sign his will in front of two witnesses. Unlike most states, in which a beneficiary cannot serve as a witness, Montana permits a testator's beneficiary to witness his will. The two witnesses must also sign the will and may be called to confirm the testator's identity and mental competence when the will is submitted for probate.
Montana statute 72-2-112 permits a surviving spouse to inherit the decedent's entire estate if the decedent dies without a will and the decedent had no children or has children who are also the surviving spouse's. When there are no children, but the decedent's parents are still alive, the spouse is entitled to $200,000 and three-fourths of the estate while the parents will inherit the balance. If the decedent had children who are not also the surviving spouse's, the spouse can claim $100,000 and one-half of the estate and the children will inherit equal shares of the remaining estate. Under 72-2-115, if the decedent has no heirs, there is no taker for the estate and the estate passes to the state of Montana.
When a person dies, his estate must be probated. Before any beneficiary is entitled to inherit, the decedent's outstanding debts must be paid out of the estate. In addition, all funeral expenses and administrative costs must be paid. All remaining property passes to the beneficiaries in the will if one was submitted, or according to intestacy law.