The Probate Process in Missouri
When a person dies, their assets have to be transferred to their heirs and beneficiaries. In some cases, this has to occur through the court system in what is known as probate. This article discusses the probate process in Missouri.
The first step to be taken by family members of someone who has passed away is to determine whether probate is necessary. If a person dies and was married, in most cases no probate is necessary because everything is held jointly between the spouses and the surviving spouse owns everything when the first spouse dies.
If that is not the case, the next step is to determine if the person who died had a will or not. If they had a will, it will need to be filed in the probate division of the county court where the person was living when they passed away. Once filed, the personal representative (executor) will receive letters testamentary, which allow the personal representative to take actions with respect to estate assets. The P.R. will then file an inventory within a month or so and notice to creditors will be published. If the decedent has creditors they have six months to file claims against the estate. If a claim is made it can be challenged or paid. Often, creditors will take a reduced payment in order to close out the debt. The estate cannot be closed for six months and in many cases, will not be ready to close when the six months is up. Probate and the administration of a person’s estate can be complex and a slow moving process.
Now, if a person died without a will, that is called dying “intestate”. In that case, a probate will still need to be filed but the person appointed by the court is referred to in Missouri as an administrator. As far as who gets what, that is determined by Missouri state law, which provides an order of heirs depending on who has survived the decedent. Depending on who survived the person, determining who their heirs are can be tricky. However, after the probate process is roughly similar for an intestate estate. An inventory will be filed and a statement of account.
By law, most probate matters in Missouri require you to hire an attorney and probate can be an expensive process. There are court fees for filing a probate and the estate will need to pay the attorney and usually pay the executor / administrator for acting on behalf of the estate. The time and uncertainty of the process, however, are just as costly. My experience has been that there is no such thing as a simple estate and that issues like relatives fighting and court delays can complicate everything.
For all of these reasons, it is best to avoid probate and I have written extensively on how this can easily be done in Missouri in previous articles.