Probate Lawyers in Chesterfield, MO, Guiding Clients Through the Process of Probating an Estate
Probate is a legal process that enables a decedent’s assets to be distributed to their rightful beneficiaries after all debts and taxes have been paid by the estate. Learn how probate works in Missouri, the steps you should take to probate a loved one’s estate, and what an attorney can do to help simplify the entire process.
What Is the Purpose of Probating an Estate in Missouri?
When someone passes away and leaves their assets to beneficiaries through a last will, the probate process helps ensure the validity of the will and the fair distribution of assets to beneficiaries after all estate taxes and debts have been settled. Once the will is determined to be genuine, the probate court may also appoint an executor to act on behalf of the estate. Without the appointment of an executor or estate administrator, the decedent’s assets cannot be managed or transferred, and the estate remains open.
Probate also ensures that all estate assets are accounted for, properly valued, and distributed to a rightful beneficiary in accordance with the decedent’s will. It also allows family members to settle disagreements over the estate and allows named and potential heirs to come forward and make a claim.
What Type of Assets Need to Go Through Probate?
In general, all assets owned solely by the decedent without a co-owner or named beneficiary designation must go through probate in Missouri. Because probate tends to take an average of six months or longer in the state, probate avoidance is a common estate planning goal.
The process of transferring assets can happen automatically without probate, but only in certain circumstances. For example, assets owned by the decedent in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship can be transferred to the surviving owner. Likewise, assets placed in a living trust can be directly transferred to the trust beneficiaries shortly after the grantor passes away. In short, any assets that are not part of a trust, have no co-owners, and no beneficiary designations may require probate before they can be distributed.
What Are the Probate Steps in Missouri?
The steps to probate an estate in Missouri are similar to other states. It all begins with a petition to the local probate court after locating the decedent’s will. The court may appoint an executor to handle all estate administration matters. The executor will then take steps to gather the decedent’s assets, take inventory of their value, and open a bank account for the estate. It is very important for an executor to keep their personal finances separate from the estate funds in order to avoid legal disputes.
Then, the executor may need to officially notify creditors and handle any creditor claims against the estate. The executor will also need to pay all taxes that may be pending for the estate and consistently communicate with heirs during the process. After all debts, taxes, and estate administration expenses (such as court fees and attorney fees) have been paid, the executor may then proceed to the step of notifying beneficiaries, distributing assets in accordance with the will, and closing out the estate.
Is There a Simplified Probate Process for Smaller Estates?
The state of Missouri has a streamlined process for qualifying estates, referred to as simplified probate. The simplified probate takes less time and requires fewer resources to complete, but it is only available for estates valued at $40,000.00 or less. This threshold can be updated as laws change, so always do your research to verify if your loved one’s estate is eligible for simplified probate.
The simplified probate process begins by preparing a list of the decedent’s assets and recruiting the help of an appraiser to receive an official assessment of the estate’s value. For estates valued at $15,000.00 or more, you may be required to publish a note in a local newspaper communicating your request for simplified probate. You may also need to wait at least 30 days after the date of the decedent’s passing in order to initiate simplified probate.
You will need to present all required documents to the court, such as a death certificate, the decedent’s will, and a list of beneficiaries. You may also be required to pay any applicable fees. The court may also require a bond of an amount equivalent to the total value of all property in the estate. Once all of these requirements have been satisfied, the personal representative of the estate may proceed to the step of distributing the assets and closing out the estate. It is important to highlight that each estate is unique, and the process of probating your loved one’s estate may be more simple or more complex than described here, so it is crucial to seek the advice of an experienced probate attorney before initiating the process.
What Happens if There Are Will Disputes During the Probate Process?
In some cases, the probate process may also be an opportunity for family members to settle any disputes over the will or concerning the share of assets being inherited. For example, if a family member of the decedent suspects the will is invalid because it was produced under coercion or fraudulent situations, that family member may initiate legal action challenging the will. In other cases, one party may be unhappy with their share of the inheritance and may want to initiate a dispute due to their disagreement. In both cases, it is possible to pursue litigation, but most of the time, the parties may achieve more favorable results for both sides through mutual agreement.
Initiating a will contest is costly, laborious, and almost always heightens the level of conflict among family members who are already dealing with a difficult situation and grieving the loss of their loved one. Settling a probate dispute through mutual agreement is oftentimes a more feasible solution for both sides. As always, consult a probate attorney to discuss your specific case.
Why Should I Work With a Probate Attorney?
When you are going through a tough chapter in life and grieving the loss of your loved one, it may be hard to think with a clear mind and get an understanding of probate law and what needs to be done to handle your loved one’s estate. It can feel overwhelming, and it may be easy to miss a crucial detail or make a costly mistake.
By working with a probate attorney, you can have more peace of mind because you can rely on your attorney’s legal knowledge and experience dealing with the probate process in Missouri. Your attorney can guide you through every step so that the process of probating your loved one’s estate goes smoothly. If you need help with any aspect of estate planning and probate administration or have questions, contact our law firm. Call Mid-America Law Practice, LLC, in Chesterfield, MO, at (314) 347-3567.