Probate has three goals. First, the probate process transfers the deceased person’s property to the heirs of the deceased either by a will (testate) or by the inheritance laws of the State of Missouri. Second, the Probate Court establishes which claims against the estate are legitimate and ensures proper payment of all legitimate claims. Third, probate provides a clear title of the deceased person’s property.
Typically probate administration occurs within one year from the date of death of the deceased person. The deceased person either died intestate or testate. Testate means died with a will, and intestate means the person died without a will. When a person dies without a will, the Probate Court follows the laws of inheritance set forth by the State of Missouri’s statutes. Whether the person died intestate or testate, the administration of the probate estate is practically the same.
In general, the administration of the probate estate begins with a request to begin the administration of the estate. A personal representative is appointed to oversee the administration. If a will was admitted to the probate court, the deceased may have requested that a surety bond be waived. Otherwise, the personal representative must obtain a surety bond which provides protection to the probate estate. A notice is provided to all creditors that the deceased person has died and a probate estate has been opened. An inventory is made of the assets of the deceased person, and this inventory is filed with the Probate Court. Creditors may file claims in Probate Court, and a hearing will be held for each claim to ensure the validity of the claim. Once the time period has passed for creditors to file claims with the court, a report is filed with the Court detailing expenditures and assets of the estate. The Probate Court will approve the distribution of the remaining assets and the estate will be closed.
A small estate is when the deceased person had less than $40,000.00 of net assets. The administration of a small estate is different than the above-described process. This process is much simpler and faster.
Refusal of letters is a process that dispenses with administration of the probate estate. The deceased person must have a surviving spouse, surviving minor children, or creditors, and those persons can request title to certain amounts of property through the Refusal of Letters process. In this process, the Probate Court refuses to appoint a personal representative but allows title to property to pass to the surviving spouse, surviving minor child, or the creditor.
If no probate estate was administered within one year after date of death and assets are still titled in the deceased person’s name, a determination of heirship may be used to distribute the property to the rightful heirs. This process requires locating all legal heirs and a hearing to determine how the assets should be distributed. This process can only be used if it has been one year or more after the date of death, no will was admitted to the Probate Court, and no estate was administered.