Missouri Probate Shortcuts: The Spousal Refusal of Letters…
Missouri law offers several probate shortcuts, depending on the circumstances of the client. One of the most common and indeed, one of the best shortcuts is the spousal refusal of letters.
Missouri law offers a probate shortcut for a person who has lost a spouse and discovers that titled property was in only the named of their deceased spouse. As a recent example, I had a client whose husband sadly passed away. She found out after he passed that he had a small bank account in his name alone and there was no beneficiary named on the account. The value of the account was approximately $4,500.00.
Because this client had no minor children, we were able to utilize a streamlined probate process in Missouri called an Application for Refusal of Letters By Surviving Spouse. This application is authorized under Missouri Statute Section 473.0090.
The advantage to this process is the simplicity, how quick it is and the lower costs both to have an attorney handle this for you and to file.
In the above example, our firm obtained the approximate balance on the bank account, the account number, and the details of the surviving spouse, including her full name, address and contact information. We also obtained the Death Certificate of the husband. With this information available, we completed the Application for Refusal of Letters by Surviving Spouse on behalf of the widow and received an order awarding the proceeds of the account to the widow within about a week. The client then took the order to the bank, who cut her a check for the account balance and closed out the account.
The filing fee was approximately $53. Our firm’s fee is a flat rate of $375 or 10% of the value of the asset that needs to be probated, whichever is higher. If the amount is especially small, we will often work out a special price for the client given the circumstances.
This statute was created for the accidental property left only in the name of a later passing spouse, so that the surviving spouse does not have to open a full blown probate, which requires at least six months to open and close, published notice to creditors and an inventory to be filed, along with other filed documents.
One important detail: Under the operating statute, Section 473.0090, the limit to the amount that can be awarded to the surviving spouse under the spousal refusal of letters process cannot be more than the cost of one year of maintenance of that spouse. Every county treats this amount differently and has different procedures for proving whether an amount does or does not exceed one year of maintenance. This is just another reason why it’s best to consult with an experienced probate attorney to have this task completed for you. St. Charles County has a limit of money that can be passed via this process. Other counties do not. My experience has been that smaller counties are more lax about the limit than larger counties.
The bottomline, however, is that the spousal refusal of letters is one terrific shortcut to an ordinary, time consuming and much more expensive probate in Missouri.