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Mississippi Inheritance Laws

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A will, according to Mississippi inheritance laws, is a formal written document that outlines how a person’s assets will be distributed upon their passing. A will lets the creator name their inheritors, specify each heir's share of the estate, and set a timeline for distributing assets.

But even if a will exists, arguments among heirs and will contests may still occur. Examine the estate of Janice Williams:

In her will, Williams specified that her niece would receive the entirety of her assets. However, Williams’ sister challenged the will, saying that the niece had undue influence on Williams. In the end, the court determined that even though Williams and her niece had a close relationship, no undue influence was utilized to create the will.

As seen in the case above, it is important to leave a detailed will and speak with your loved ones about your inheritance to prevent future issues.

It is also crucial to learn about relevant inheritance laws in Mississippi, which are discussed on this page. These include the process of writing and executing a legitimate will, as well as the inheritance rights of a decedent's loved ones.

What Happens if Someone Dies With a Will in Mississippi?

If someone dies with a valid will in Mississippi, their assets will be allocated based on the desires they have written in the document.

Requirements for a Valid Will

To have a will that complies with Mississippi law, a testator (or the person writing the will) must be at least 18 years old. They must also be of sound mind, which means that they understand the possible effects of whatever they include in the document.

For a will to be valid, the testator must also write their signature. In some cases, their representative may sign the will on their behalf as long as they are present in the same room.

Additionally, the will must include the signature of at least two witnesses if the testator is not the sole author of the will. A person is only qualified to be a witness if they are not listed among the beneficiaries of the will. If a witness is also listed as a beneficiary, their share may be invalidated. To avoid this, select witnesses who are not beneficiaries of the will.

A Mississippi estate planning attorney can assist people in creating and executing a legally enforceable will that satisfies all these requirements. They can also help a testator specify any particular guidelines for asset distribution and designate an executor capable of carrying out their intentions.

Kinds of Valid Wills

Mississippi recognizes oral or nuncupative wills. These wills are only enforceable if they are executed during the testator's final illness, at their home, or at least 10 days before their death. Oral wills typically limit the creator to leaving no more than $100 to any one person. A bequest larger than this amount is only lawful if the testator's oral will can be verified by two witnesses.

A handwritten or holographic will in Mississippi is also accepted if the testator fully handwrote, dated, and signed it, and they intended for the document to function as a will.

It is not typically necessary to notarize a will for it to be valid. But in Mississippi, people who make a self-proving will must have the document notarized.  To create a self-proving will, the creator and witnesses must sign an affidavit in front of a notary. This document confirms their identities and acknowledges that they are signing a will.

Some choose to have a self-proving will because it speeds up the probate process; the court may accept this document without the need to summon and speak with the witnesses.

Probate

In Mississippi, it is required for wills to go through probate before the decedent’s assets can be given to the beneficiaries. Probate is a court-supervised process that validates the will and oversees the distribution of the decedent’s property. Once the probate court has validated the will, the estate’s personal representative or executor may proceed with estate administration. 

Note that several types of assets do not have to undergo the probate process and can be directly given to their designated beneficiaries. These include:

  • Retirement accounts.

  • Life insurance plans.

  • Assets held in a living trust.

  • Stocks kept in a transfer-on-death account.

  • Vehicles with a transfer-on-death registration.

  • Real property with a transfer-on-death deed.

  • Real estate held in full or shared tenancy.

In Mississippi, the probate process typically lasts nine months or longer, depending on the complexity and the estate’s total value. Some kinds of assets can make an estate more complicated to deal with. For instance, if the decedent owned several businesses before passing away, their estate’s personal representative is required to take additional actions to appraise or sell these businesses. Extra requirements for complex assets, like businesses, can extend the time needed to complete probate.

For estates worth over $50,000 in probate assets, Mississippi courts require a formal probate process. This specific procedure requires the personal representative to submit a list of assets included in the estate within 90 days after being appointed as the estate's administrator.

A Mississippi probate lawyer can help the estate's executor properly handle court paperwork, secure assets, pay taxes, and resolve family conflicts.

Contesting a Will

According to state law, the interested parties in a will have the right to contest or challenge its validity. These interested parties include the immediate family members of the deceased, the heirs indicated in the will, and other potential beneficiaries if the will is invalid. They only have two years to challenge a will, starting after probate begins.

Challenging a will entails bringing a lawsuit to claim that the will is invalid or improper. The most common legal grounds for contesting a will in the state are as follows:

  • Invalidity of the will: The testator did not meet the requirements for creating a valid will under state law.

  • Insufficient mental capacity of the testator: This is the case when someone, after losing mental capacity, drafts a will or significantly amends one that already exists.

  • Forgery by another party: This means that someone intentionally falsified the testator's will in order to gain an advantage.

  • Undue influence: The testator's will was changed because a person close to them convinced them or because they were threatened or abused into doing so.

Pieces of evidence, such as medical documents, surveillance footage, audio recordings, or written contracts, must be shown by the interested party contesting the will. Other parties, such as close friends, family members, doctors, or service providers, are also typically asked to provide depositions or testimonies in court.

What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will in Mississippi?

If someone dies without a valid will, the court considers them to have died "intestate." This means that the probate court will apply intestate succession laws to determine who will inherit their assets. The following is the general outline of the probate process for intestate assets in Mississippi:

  1. An administrator will be assigned to the intestate.

  2. The administrator will notify all known creditors and potential heirs of the estate.

  3. The administrator will settle the debts of the decedent.

  4. Any assets that remain after the debts are paid will be allocated to the heirs.

  5. The administrator will prepare an estate closure petition that must be signed by the heirs.

  6. The probate process ends with the signing of this petition. 

Note that hearings will be arranged if there are disagreements regarding the distribution of assets. After these hearings, the assigned judge will decide how the remaining assets will be divided.

Spousal Rights

Common law policies designate the inheritance rights of surviving spouses in Mississippi. Under these policies, if a married individual dies without a valid will, their surviving spouse will not automatically get half of the estate or its entirety; rather, the spouse’s share of the estate will be determined by the number of children the decedent had:

  • The spouse will get the entire intestate property if the decedent does not have any children.

  • If the decedent left behind a single child, the surviving spouse and the child will each receive 50% of the intestate property.

  • If the decedent had multiple kids, the surviving spouse and children would each receive an equal share of the intestate property.

Children’s Rights

If a person dies without a valid will, their legal relationship to their child will determine whether the latter can receive a portion of their estate.

  • Offspring by birth: An intestate portion will automatically be given to biological children.

  • Adopted children: The decedent’s legally adopted children will also get an intestate portion automatically.

  • Grandchildren: If a grandchild's parent — the decedent’s son or daughter — is already deceased, the grandchild will get their intestate share.

  • Children put up for adoption: Children lawfully adopted by a different family are entitled to inherit from their biological parents under Mississippi law.

  • Posthumous children: An intestate share will be awarded to children conceived by the deceased but not born prior to their passing.

  • Stepchildren and foster children: Children in foster care and stepchildren who were never formally adopted by the deceased will not be entitled to an intestate share.

  • Children conceived outside of marriage: If the decedent did not marry the mother of their children, the children will only inherit an intestate share if either of these conditions is fulfilled:

    • The deceased took part in a marriage ceremony, even though it was later declared null and void.

    • The court established the paternity of the deceased.

The Rights of Other Surviving Relatives

In Mississippi, the property of an unmarried, childless person who passes away without a will is inherited by their closest surviving relatives in the following order:

  1. If at least one of the decedent's parents is still alive, the parent inherits the entire estate.

  2. If the decedent’s parents have already passed away but their siblings are still alive, each sibling will receive an equal intestate portion. This means that a lone surviving sibling will get the decedent’s entire estate, while the existence of four living siblings entitles each one to 25% of the estate.

Estates With No Heirs

If a person in Mississippi passes away without a will and has no surviving relatives, their assets will undergo the escheat route, which means they will end up in the state funds. This is extremely uncommon, though, as laws are structured to distribute a deceased person's intestate property to their living relatives.

Unique Situations in Mississippi Inheritance Law

Some special circumstances under Mississippi inheritance laws are as follows:

  • Citizenship: Mississippi intestacy laws do not take immigration background into account. Should a surviving family member be eligible for an intestate portion, they may receive the assets whether they are residing legally in the state or not.

  • Posthumous loved ones: An intestate share will go to relatives conceived before the death of the decedent. Posthumous relatives, however, cannot receive a share unless they live for at least 120 hours after their birth.

  • Half-relatives: The intestate share of half-relatives is similar to what full relatives will receive. Half-siblings, for example, will receive the same portion as the rest of the siblings.

  • The killer rule: A relative who intentionally causes or triggers the decedent's death is not entitled to an intestate share.

Does Mississippi Impose Inheritance and Estate Taxes?

Mississippi does not levy inheritance or estate taxes. However, a resident of the state may be liable for estate taxes if they are going to inherit a property from a state that levies these fees.

In addition, the following tax returns must be submitted following the decedent's passing:

  • Final individual income tax returns to the federal and state governments: These tax returns must be completed and filed by the tax day of the year when the decedent passed away.

  • Federal estate/trust income tax return: This tax return needs to be completed by April 15 of the year after the decedent’s passing.

  • Federal estate tax return: This tax return must be submitted nine months after the decedent’s death. If requested before the nine-month period is over, an automatic six-month extension is possible. Only the estates of individuals with gross assets and preceding taxable gift values over $13.61 million entail a tax return obligation.

Legal Resources Related to Inheritance Law in Mississippi

The Mississippi Bar Association

The Mississippi Bar Association supports locals by working to resolve their issues through the legal system. It helps them find the right attorney to handle their concern, whether related to inheritance law or another legal field. Moreover, the association has a Consumer Assistance Program for those who would like to file a complaint against a lawyer. To initiate a request for assistance, one should fill out the correct form available on the Mississippi Bar’s website.

Contact Information
Phone number: 601-948-4471
Fax number: 601-355-8635
Mailing address: P.O. Box 2168, Jackson, MS 39225-2168

Mississippi Center for Justice

The Mississippi Center for Justice is a nonprofit law firm that serves property owners and estate heirs in the state. It offers a range of legal services, such as will creation, family dispute mediation, quiet title action application, and legal representation for heirs who want to forcefully sell their inherited property. Additionally, it offers seminars on inheritance rights.

Phone Numbers
Jackson office: 601-352-2269
Biloxi office: 228-435-7284
Indianola office: 662-887-6570

Mission First

The Legal Aid Office of Mission First caters to individuals with legal concerns. It handles matters involving family law, debtor or creditor issues, and government benefit programs. It also deals with cases related to child advocacy, guardianship, and adoption. To obtain assistance from the Legal Aid Office, complete the intake form on its website.

Contact Information
Phone number: 601-608-0050
Email address: office@missionfirst.org
Office address: 275 Roseneath Ave., Jackson, MS 39203

North Mississippi Rural Legal Services

The North Mississippi Rural Legal Services provides free legal assistance and representation to qualified low-income residents within 39 counties in the region. It helps people resolve their heir property issues and assists them in preparing and filing their tax returns. The office also operates several other programs, including an elder law project, a foreclosure prevention initiative, a benefits enrollment center, and a victim assistance program.

Contact Information
Phone number: 662-234-8731 or 1-800-898-8731
Fax number: 662-234-2965 
Office address: 493 Ryland Way, Oxford, MS 39555-1259

University of Mississippi School of Law

The University of Mississippi’s School of Law has a pro bono initiative. Under this program, law students work with volunteer attorneys to provide assistance to locals with legal issues. One of its past projects was a wills clinic that helped people draft wills and powers of attorney. The initiative has also collaborated with the Mississippi Bar, the Mississippi Center for Justice, and the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission in previous operations.

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