Everyone’s property needs a place to go when they die. Grief and unresolved issues can complicate the process of distributing property after the death occurs. Additionally, the unexpected nature of death makes it difficult for the deceased to give away their remaining property before they die.

A person’s estate plan is a combination of legal documents that outline the process for administering their estate upon incapacity or death. Distribution of their property can take place under Mississippi intestate succession laws if there is no plan. The estate plan ensures the decedent can control the disposition of their property and leave someone they trust in charge of their estate.

A Mississippi estate planning lawyer at Harris Law Firm can review and draft an estate plan that respects your wishes and protects your assets.

Practice Areas

An estate planning attorney can guide you through the probate process after the death of a loved one. Additionally, an estate planning lawyer can guide you through planning for your future and discuss the type of estate plan that fits your needs.

Drafting a Will and Estate Planning Documents

A will details the distribution of a decedent’s assets following their death and names the beneficiaries of their estate. Beneficiaries are the people named in the will to inherit the decedent’s property. The decedent outlines who they want to receive their property and who they want to carry out the terms of their will, called the executor.

Many people mistakenly believe an estate plan is only necessary once they reach old age. Unfortunately, most people cannot predict when they will die. Implementing an estate plan earlier can give you peace of mind about your assets in the event of a tragic accident or illness.

For a will to be valid in Mississippi, the testator, or person signing the will, must be:

  • At least eighteen years old, and
  • Of sound and disposing mind.

Additionally, they must sign the will in front of two witnesses.

Other estate planning documents include an advance healthcare directive and durable power of attorney. An advance healthcare directive provides instructions to loved ones concerning your healthcare choices if you become incapacitated or unable to communicate. A durable power of attorney outlines who controls your assets should you become incapacitated. The agent makes decisions on your behalf, but you can limit those decisions.

Creating a Trust

A trust is an arrangement where property is legally owned and managed by a fiduciary as trustee for the benefit of another person, called a beneficiary, who is the equitable owner of the property. The person who creates the trust and transfers property to it is called the grantor. 

Trusts offer certain benefits, including:

  • Avoiding the probate process,
  • Protecting assets from creditors,
  • Limiting a beneficiary’s access to their inheritance, and
  • Providing for a loved one with special needs.

Certain types of trusts also offer tax benefits. A trust can help a decedent’s heirs avoid the time-consuming, costly probate process.

Navigating the Probate Process

Probate is the court-supervised process of proving a will is valid and distributing the decedent’s property under the terms of the will. When someone dies without a will, Mississippi intestate succession laws outline the distribution of their property. 

Sometimes, a decedent’s estate may be exempt from the Mississippi probate process. For example, a decedent’s estate is exempt from probate if they did not own any assets solely in their name. Additionally, an estate is exempt from probate if the total value of the estate is $75,000 or less.

Disadvantages of Dying Without an Estate Plan

When someone in Mississippi dies without a will, the state decides what happens to their property. Therefore, the decedent does not control who receives their property when they die. 

Leaving your loved ones without an estate plan can also lead to disputes over who gets what property. Formal documents can help the family respect the decedent’s wishes and distribute property amicably. 

Lastly, avoiding the probate process can help your loved ones save money after your death. Your estate can avoid going through probate if you title all of your property under a trust. A probate lawyer can explain how you structure your estate so your family can avoid probate proceedings.

Types of Estate Planning Documents

When considering an estate plan, start by realizing that every estate plan is unique. Every family has its own goals and desires, and an estate plan should take this into account. Thus, while every estate plan is different, they tend to include some of the same documents.

Last Will and Testament

A last will and testament, or a “will,” is a legal document in which you determine how you want your property distributed when you die. If you die without a will in Mississippi, your assets will still pass on to your loved ones. However, you will not get a say in who is first in line to inherit or how the court divides up your assets. Instead, your state’s default rules, called intestacy laws, will make those decisions. These laws predetermine who receives what, based solely on their relationship to you. Additionally, when you create a will, you can also name a guardian for any minor children, avoiding the need for guardianship proceedings.


At its most basic level, a trust is a relationship between three parties: the person who creates the trust (the grantor), the person who manages the trust (the trustee), and the people for whom the trust was established (beneficiaries). Trusts are an integral part of most estate plans, as they offer a wide range of benefits depending on a family’s needs. For example, by creating a trust, you can accomplish any of the following:

  • Reduce your estate’s tax exposure;
  • Keep young or financially inexperienced beneficiaries from accessing their entire inheritance all at once;
  • Provide for the ongoing support of a loved one with special needs;
  • Protect estate assets from bankruptcy, divorce, or creditors;
  • Facilitate the Medicaid-application process; and
  • Limit the assets that must pass through the probate process.

Trusts generally fall into one of two categories: revocable and irrevocable trusts. Revocable trusts offer greater flexibility but fewer benefits. For example, you can modify or terminate a revocable trust at any time. However, irrevocable trusts offer the strongest benefits and protections.

Power of Attorney Documents

A power of attorney is a legal document that, once executed, grants another person the ability to make important decisions on your behalf. In the estate planning context, powers of attorney play an important role in incapacity planning. For example, if you suddenly become unable to manage your own financial affairs, you may want someone to step in and help out. By having a power of attorney in place, you can greatly simplify this process. Most powers of attorney only become effective once the person creating the document becomes incapacitated.

What Is Probate?

Probate is the legal process by which a judge validates a decedent’s will and distributes their assets. An estate must go through probate regardless of whether the deceased has a will—unless all of their assets are in accounts that transfer upon death. Accounts that transfer automatically on death are any payable-on-death (POD) accounts, transfer-on-death (TOD) accounts, any accounts with named beneficiaries, and any property or asset held in combination with a co-owner. 

For all other assets, probate is required. And before your heirs receive any inheritance, the executor must gather all estate assets, determine the value of the estate, and pay off all estate debts. Often, probate is both time-consuming and expensive.

Probate also opens the door to litigation, such as a will contest. Thus, it is typically beneficial to consider probate-avoidance strategies. In many cases, restructuring assets and other probate-avoidance strategies are relatively straightforward ways to lessen the burden placed on family members.  

When Should I Hire an Estate Planning Attorney 

Everyone will die someday—this is an unavoidable fact. Although you may not want to think about the end of your life, it is crucial to do so before it’s too late. It is never too early to start thinking about your estate plan. Circumstances that may warrant implementing or updating your estate plan include:

  • Birthing a child,
  • Getting married, 
  • Getting divorced,
  • Purchasing real estate,
  • Purchasing an expensive asset,
  • Inheriting money, or
  • Retiring from your job.

A legal professional can draft your estate plan and ensure the documents are legally binding and enforceable. 

Contact an Estate & Probate Lawyer at Harris Law Firm Today to Discuss Your Case

Without guidance, your loved ones may encounter issues satisfying your estate’s debts or making end-of-life decisions. An estate planning lawyer can help you develop an estate plan that protects your assets and informs your family members on how to proceed after your death. Otherwise, your property may end up in the hands of someone who does not deserve to have it. An estate planning attorney can draft your estate plan to give you ultimate authority over the disposition of your assets.

The Harris Law Firm, PLLC, has prioritized the needs of our clients since we opened in 1981. You can rest assured that your estate plan is in the hands of knowledgeable, experienced legal professionals. 

We approach each client with compassion and patience. A team member will meet with you to discuss the specifics of your estate and end-of-life wishes. Contact us today so we can begin your estate planning journey.