Probate court exists to distribute a person’s estate and assets after they die and settle any of the estate’s debts. This process can be costly and time-consuming for a deceased person’s loved ones. There are effective estate planning techniques to avoid the probate process in Kansas City. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you review your wishes for your estate and the needs of your loved ones to create a comprehensive estate plan.
Without a comprehensive estate plan, the deceased’s estate will enter probate court. Although a will is considered part of an estate plan, it does not keep assets from probate. It is simply a public document which lists the distribution wishes of the deceased. Depending on the complications and disputes made by loved ones and beneficiaries, the process of probate could last several months or over a year.
It’s useful to understand the full process of probate court if you are planning your estate or are dealing with probate administration after losing a loved one.
The Kansas City Probate Process
Once an individual passes, the probate process typically follows these steps:
- Review of the Will
The representative of the estate or a family member will work with a probate administration attorney and file a request with the probate court for approval as the representative. The court will review the deceased’s will and decide if it is valid. If it is, the executor named in the will is placed in charge of the estate, and the contents are distributed according to the wishes stated in the will.
If the will is not valid, or if the deceased had no will, the court will place a personal representative in charge of the estate. This may be the individual who requested it, or it may be the next of kin. The assets in the estate are distributed according to intestate succession laws.
The court will also assess the deceased’s taxes, debts, and other liabilities.
- Notice to Heirs and Creditors
The personal representative then gives notice to the heirs or beneficiaries of the estate and any creditors of the estate. Known heirs and creditors should be given direct notice. Then, the representative should publish a notice in the paper to inform unknown creditors and heirs. Unknown creditors have six months from publication to submit their claims. These claims are then reviewed for validity.
- Inventory and Secure Assets
During the open period of creditor claims, the representative should review the will’s contents and secure the assets. If there is no will, the representative should gather, inventory, and secure the assets in an estate. They will then give the probate court a list of these assets, which may include bank accounts, real estate and properties, personal property, retirement accounts, and investment accounts.
The personal representative of a deceased’s estate has a fiduciary duty to act with the heirs’ and beneficiaries’ interests in mind and make decisions with assets that are in those individuals’ interests.
- Asset Distribution
The representative must pay all creditor claims, pay estate taxes, and navigate any will contests or other legal issues. Once these have been settled and creditor claims are closed, the remaining assets in the estate are distributed to the heirs or beneficiaries. Assets are either distributed by the will or by succession laws. Once this process has been completed, the estate can be closed.
After filing for estate closure, the representative will provide probate court with a statement of receipts listing the distribution of the estate and how debts were paid, finalizing the closure of the estate. The representative is then released from their duty as an executor.
Q: How Much Does an Estate Have to Be Worth to Go to Probate in Missouri?
A: In Missouri, only estates valued over $40,000 go through the typical probate process. Smaller estates may go through a simplified probate process. To avoid probate court, an estate can establish trusts to transfer assets to beneficiaries and other estate planning tactics to keep assets from probate. Although small estates may not take long to pass through probate or simplified probate, it is still a potentially costly process for beneficiaries and loved ones.
An estate plan could prevent these issues and keep most or all of an estate from the probate process.
Q: Do I Need a Lawyer for Probate Court in Missouri?
A: In Missouri, you are required to have a probate administration attorney overseeing specific processes in probate court. Any estate that must pass through probate is required by law to have attorney oversight. Although not every aspect of probate court requires attorney oversight, most aspects do. It is also to your benefit to have an attorney guiding you through the process, even if it is not required.
Attorneys can help value and identify assets, meet legal deadlines, manage accounts, and transfer assets.
Q: What Is the Final Order of Distribution in Missouri?
A: When the court gives the final order of distribution, it means the estate can be distributed and closed. An estate in probate is open to creditors’ claims for a certain period of time. Once this period has closed, the executor files for a final order of distribution. Once this is filed, the court will distribute the estate according to a will or to intestate law. The executor must then follow this distribution in an efficient and reasonable period of time.
Q: How Long Does an Executor Have to Settle an Estate in Missouri?
A: There is no specific deadline set for settling an estate in Missouri. Once there is an approved personal representative, or the executor stated in a will is put in charge, this representative provides notices to creditors, who then have six months to file a claim. After these six months, the executor could file for the final order of distribution, distribute assets, and close the estate between 10 and 60 days later.
If there are additional legal complications, this period of time could be extended. In complex cases, probate could last a year or longer.
Protecting Your Estate and Loved Ones with Estate Planning
A comprehensive estate plan can provide solutions for individuals who want to make probate easier for their loved ones or avoid probate altogether. However, creating these plans is only useful if they are legally valid. An estate planning attorney at Stange Law Firm can help you craft an estate plan that safeguards your assets and limits the stressors of your loved ones.