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Missouri Probate Steps: Inventory Filing…

Missouri Probate Steps: Inventory Filing…


This blog article discusses the the Missouri probate step of filing an inventory.

So a person has passed away and either they had a will or did not have a will.  Either way, a probate may need to be opened in the county where the decedent died to determine who is entitled to the assets of the decedent.  This process is called probate.

The first step in probate is someone or several people file an Application for Probate and for Letters Testamentary (if there is a valid will) or for Letters of Administration (if there is no will).  It is these Letters that allow the person to act as the Personal Representative (same as executor) or the Administrator (same as executor but only in situation where there is no will) and to deal with the assets of the probate estate.

The next step is filing an Inventory within 30 days of the Letters being issued.  This process can be tedious because it is here that you are tracking down what the decedent had but what it’s approximately worth.  It’s a complicated process.  Hopefully you have an attorney helping you through it.  As a quick aside, in Missouri you can have a Supervised estate or an Unsupervised estate.  The Unsupervised estate, in the right situation, is the easiest way to get through probate because the court does not directly monitor all of the transactions of the estate.  The catch is you need to hire an attorney in order to be allowed to open an Unsupervised estate.   My advice?  Hire an attorney.

Back to the Inventory process.  This can vary widely by county.  In St. Louis County, the Inventory is checked over by an auditing department and that is primarily due there is much more probate fraud in St. Louis County than just about anywhere in the state.  St. Charles County has a terrific probate department and they are very helpful.  They take more of a hands off approach to Inventories that are filed and will usually call if something is missing or incorrectly filed.  Probate courts in Warren County, Lincoln County and Franklin County tend to have less estates filed and often do not have their own forms.  In such a case, it is usually okay to use the forms found on the St. Louis County website, although it is always best to call ahead.

Before you can even file a document called an Inventory, however, you have to know what is included in the estate.  A bank account in the decedent’s name only with no beneficiary named will be part of the estate and must be included in the inventory.  With the letters in hand, the executor can find out the account numbers and the value.  They should also be receiving account statements by mail or online by this time as well.  If an account has the decedent’s name and someone else’s name, it avoids probate and is owned by the surviving account holder.  If there are beneficiaries named on the account, it will also avoid probate.

This is pretty much the same as with all accounts, including IRAs, 401K, non-qualified investment accounts (i.e. a Scottrade or Edward Jones account) and life insurance.  Missouri allows decedents to transfer property after death to TOD beneficiaries.  Check the title of all vehicles, including cars, boats, motors and trailers.

What about a home?  If a house is titled in the decedent’s name alone then you need to see if a beneficiary deed was recorded prior to their death.  If so, the house will avoid probate and go to the beneficiaries named on the beneficiary deed document.  If not, the house will be part of the probate inventory and an appraisal may be necessary.  Some counties allow the tax assessment figure to suffice.

Finally, personal property, unless of some value and/or titled property does not usually need to be accounted for in the Inventory.  However, and this is a big however, it should ALWAYS be inventoried by the executor to avoid a fight among the beneficiaries / heirs.

In conclusion, the Inventory notifies the court what is included in the estate and notifies the beneficiaries or heirs of the estate as well since they are to receive a copy of the filed Inventory document.  Once the Inventory is filed, the next step is to deal with creditors and the debts of the decedent.  I will discuss this step in a future blog post.


Serving As Trustee of A Trust? Not As Easy As It Looks!

Serving As Trustee of A Trust? Not As Easy As It Looks!


One of the services provided by Legacy Law Center is trust administration.  When a person passes away with a living trust (or other type of trust) in place, the assets in the trust must be administered, i.e. managed and/or distributed according to the terms of the trust document.

Serving as a trustee sounds like a glamorous position.  You’re in charge of money and you have a lot of power over that money, right?  Well, it’s not that simple.  For starters, a trustee is a fiduciary.  A fiduciary is a person who has the power and duty to act on behalf of another person (usually referred to as a “beneficiary”) under circumstances that require total trust, good faith and honesty.   A fiduciary must avoid self-dealing (buying trust property themselves at a discount for example) and must avoid conflict on interests.

Here’s where things get tough for most trustees.  They are in charge of a trust in which they are likely a beneficiary and other family members are beneficiaries as well.  Even in the best of families, one person in charge of significant assets is going to create circumstances in which the trustee’s moves and motives are questioned at every turn.

“Why was Mom and Dad’s home sold and not kept?”

“That accountant the trustee hired is too expensive, they should have used my accountant. “

“The trustee is using trust assets for himself.”

“What happened to Uncle Dave’s fabulous gun collection?  Everything just disappeared.”

Rest assured, in most family trusts, once the assets are in control of the trustee, the worst assumptions and second guessing will begin.  In some families it starts on the day of the funeral.  If the trustee lets things fester, trust litigation can develop.

I’ve seen circumstances where the trustee could not take the emotional toll that the role put on them.  They were desperate for my firm to help.   Hiring a trust attorney to assist in the administration of the trust can create a firewall between the trustee and beneficiary while ensuring the trustee carries out their duties effectively.  For example, in the situation where the beneficiaries are already doubting the moves of the trustee even before they have the assets in their control, the trust attorney can send out a letter stating that the beneficiaries are welcome to contact the firm for updates but that updates will come via letter once they are necessary.  A letter from the attorney outlining the timeline for resolution of the trust is often a good way to set expectations.  When that letter comes from the trustee, second guessing can only worsen.

Our firm does not draft trusts without a no-contest provision which states that any beneficiary who files a lawsuit contesting the trust potentially loses their inheritance for doing so.  Now, there are exceptions to these provisions, but courts will uphold them on the belief that if the grantor of the trust (the creator of it) wanted that provision, they meant for it to be enforced.

Remember this as well:  The trustee in most trust situations does not have to rush through the process of identifying assets and distributing them.  That’s a competing problem for a trustee because working too fast can lead to mistakes and a fiduciary that makes mistakes can be personally liable. 

Ultimately, the best move a trustee can often make is to utilize the provision in the trust allowing them to hire professionals to handle the investing of trust assets (financial advisor), to account for them (CPA) and to deal with the legal issues of the trust (attorney).  Once these professionals are hired, a trustee will often find that the mob puts down their pitchforks, that a path with an end in sight develops and that they handle their duties more effectively and efficiently.

One more thing:  We always remind our trustees that they were chosen for a reason and their crazy brother and angry sister were passed over as trustee for a reason.   You were the one chosen because you were the most dependable.



Special needs trusts…

Special needs trusts…


A special needs trust (“SNT”), sometimes referred to as a supplemental needs trust, is a trust that is used primarily to supplement, but not replace, any public benefits (like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (called “SSI”) that a special needs beneficiary may receive.   The three main types of SNT are the d(4)(A) disability trust, the d(4)(C) pooled trust and the third party SNT.

This article will focus on third party special needs trusts, as they are commonly used by parents planning their estate for a disabled child and their other children.

First, it is crucial that a third party SNT is drafted correctly by an experienced estate planning and/or elder law attorney.  This is because the language of these trusts is scrutinized very closely by public benefits agencies to ensure that the purpose who created the trust intended the inheritance within to be supplemental for the special needs child and not to replace or supplant public benefits.  Medicaid and SSI are both means tested benefits, i.e. you must have limited assets to qualify for them.  An individual with special needs, however, ordinarily meets this minimum asset standard because they cannot work.  And that is why they cannot directly inherit assets from a trust from their parents or other relatives such as grandparents.

Generally speaking, the trust must contain language that provides that the trustee has sole and/or absolute discretion to distribute assets from the trust on behalf of the special needs individual.  This differs from most trusts which often use the ascertainable standard of distributions, “health, education, maintenance and support” (sometimes referred to as “HEMS”).   This standard can disqualify a special needs individual from public benefits.

Knowing what a special needs trust can pay for is also crucial, as the rules regarding this are tricky and confusing.  In Missouri, expenses that can be paid for (without supplanting public benefits) are clothing, phone, cable, vehicle expenses, insurance, tuition / books, household furnishings, computers and electronics, taxes, medications and therapy and legal fees.

There are frequent and often conflicting rules changes surrounding special needs trusts.

Choosing a trustee and successor and alternate trustees is an entirely different issue and best left for another article.  However, this is also a crucial aspect of special needs planning as the complexity of these trusts requires someone who can navigate the complexities or who understands when they need to hire someone (such as Legacy Law Center) to assist them.

Legacy Law Center can assist clients in all aspects of special needs trusts, from the utilizing our expertise and experience in drafting these trusts to assisting trustees to carefully and correctly administer the trusts with the strict and every changing guidelines.

Trust Administration in Missouri…

Trust Administration in Missouri…


Avoiding probate is one of the best aspects of having a living trust.  Administering a trust after a person dies is much easier and cost effective than the probate process.  That does not mean there are not steps to complete for administering a trust, however.

Here are the 9 steps for administering a trust in Missouri:

  1.  Making an inventory of assets.   All assets held by the trust should be identified, including determining title and ownership of the trust assets.  If some assets are not owned by the trust, a separate probate estate might need to be opened.
  2. Valuing of assets.  The valuation of assets has important income tax, capital gains tax, property tax and estate tax implications.  Depending on the asset, a formal appraisal might be required.  Accounts are easy since statements will provide valuations.
  3. Allocating of assets.  The trust terms will dictate what assets are to be allocated to sub-trusts or to a surviving spouse or both.  Technical considerations must be made to determine where certain assets should be allocated.
  4. Asset retitling.  Each asset must be titled to the proper trust in order to maintain protection from estate taxes, creditor claims and Medicaid.  Our firm can assist in preparing titles and transferring assets quickly.
  5. Obtaining a taxpayer identification number.  Once a trust becomes irrevocable, a taxpayer identification number (a TIN) must be obtained from the IRS.  To do so, a Form SS-4 must be filed.  Caution must be taken to ensure that the trustee will be recognized by the IRS and will recognize and respond to inquiries from the trustee.
  6. Determination of need to file Form 706.  A married couple has generally no estate tax payable upon the first death because of the unlimited marital deduction.  A Form 706 is a federal estate tax return.  Filing this form will establish the value of assets.
  7. Filing of Form 706.  A federal estate tax return must be filed within 9 months of the date of death.  Since Missouri does not have an inheritance tax, there is no need to file a state estate tax return (and there is no such thing).  Our firm has experience in preparing these returns.
  8. Filing of Form 1041.  A Form 1041 is often required to report income taxes.  There are other filings as well, including Notice of Fiduciary Relationship and Request for Discharge of Personal Liability.
  9. Distribution of assets.  Eventually assets will need to be distributed from the trust and will be able to be distributed.  Specific distributions and residual distributions must be carried out.

Keep in mind that in addition to the above, a trustee must also, collect assets of the estate, pay bills of the decedent before their death, during the administration of the trust and bills directly attributable to the passing of the decedent (i.e. funeral bills, medical bills).  Any other directions in the trust must also be carried out.

Trustees ultimately must carry out the terms of the trust as provided in the document.  This can lead to a trustee exposed to liability, potential legal penalties and subjected to litigation.  Trust documents always allow a trustee to obtain legal counsel and a trustee should never attempt to administer a trust without the assistance of an attorney.

FREE Missouri Estate Planning Guide

FREE Missouri Estate Planning Guide

Free Missouri Estate Planning Guide