Do I Need An Attorney For Probate In Missouri?
Yes. You do need an attorney in Missouri for probate. Here is why: First, in order to proceed with an independent probate administration, state law requires it. Under RSMo. 473.787 (3) (link: http://www.moga.mo.gov/mostatutes/stathtml/47300007871.html), an independent personal representative (executor) shall “secure the advice and services of an attorney” on legal questions arising in connection with matters related to the opening of a probate estate, applying for an the issuance of letters testamentary or administration, preservation of estate assets, the inventory of the probate estate, dealing with creditor claims and their payment or resolution, filing of tax returns, making distribution and the closing of the estate.
So basically Missouri law requires it if you want to proceed independently. The alternative is to proceed with a supervised probate estate, which is often specifically not called for either under the will of the decedent. Because the last will and testament controls the actions of the personal representative, often an attorney must be hired.
Secondly, a probate estate should be opened with the assistance and services of a probate attorney because opening, administering and closing an estate is complex. That’s a practical consideration. In addition, probate matters can be very emotionally draining for families. If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know how emotionally charged that situation can be. If you’re the executor named in the will, you’re often going to feel a lot of pressure to get things done quickly. I’ve seen this happen in the closest of families. Family members often don’t understand that just because there is money in the estate, that money just can’t be immediately divided and checks cuts.
Also, remember, the problem is that you owe a “fiduciary duty to the persons interested in the estate” (i.e. the heirs or beneficiaries). There is no incentive for you to handle the estate alone and in fact, if you do so and then claim you were not up to the task, you can be held personally liable for any of your errors. Frankly, a person handling an estate without any knowledge how to do so is already engaging in a breach of their fiduciary duties.
Finally, remember the probate process in Missouri is complicated and requires you to devote time to handle it. Very few estates are as simple as people believe. Assets cannot be found, creditor claims pop up that were previously unknown. Deadlines must be met and the court has little to no mercy on those that claim they aren’t attorneys. With the help of an attorney, those deadlines can be met and headaches can be avoided.
Your best bet is to work with a probate attorney and let them handle all of the filings. The best part? You’ll still be involved in the process and still earn a statutory fee (usually the same amount as the attorney) for serving.