When a person dies owning property in the state of Missouri, a probate estate may be necessary to see that the decedent’s last bills are paid and the decedent’s property is distributed to the proper persons. Probate has been established to protect the rights of creditors and heirs or beneficiaries.
Contrary to popular belief, a Last Will and Testament does not avoid probate. If an individual takes advantage of Missouri’s liberal laws regarding non-probate transfers, probate can be avoided. Trusts, joint accounts, pay on death accounts, transfer on death titling and beneficiary deeds and other beneficiary designations are the most common methods to avoid probate.
If the person has a Will, the provisions of the Will govern the distribution. If a person dies without a Will, the statutes of Missouri govern who will receive the property. The person who sees to the winding up of another’s estate is called the Personal Representative. The Personal Representative is granted “Letters” by the court which authorize that person to see to it that the decedent’s final expenses are paid and the property is distributed.
Probate can be a lengthy, expensive process, but that is not always the case. For small estates under $40,000.00, simplified procedures are in place. Someone can sign an affidavit of small estate to take possession of a small amount of property as long as any bills are paid. There is also a simplified process if the estate is small and there is a surviving spouse who will likely be entitled to any property not already jointly owned.
Probate fees and expenses are mostly determined by statute in Missouri. There are court costs to open the estate. A bond may be required of the personal representative depending on the amount and type of assets. The personal representative and attorney are allowed fees, which are generally determined according to statute, to be paid from the estate.
A Probate attorney can be of great assistance in plowing through the waters of probate, as the forms and procedures can be complicated.
Contact one of our attorneys today to learn more about probate and how Ozark Elder Law can help you understand probate law.