In Missouri, after a person dies, the heirs have one year to open a probate estate if full probate is necessary. 

The biggest issue that arises is that Wills are not effective unless admitted to the probate court within one year of the death of the owner of the property. If timely probate is not filed, the property will pass to the true heirs at law, not to the parties named in the Will. 

Additionally, when a family member dies, each asset must be examined to determine whether it automatically passed to another person upon death or must be probated. If these determinations become complex, an attorney practicing in the area of probate can assist.

If you have questions about these services or would like to schedule a consultation with our attorneys, please give us a call today. We would be honored to assist you.

Probate FAQs

What to Do When a Family Member Dies

After a death, it’s best to gather information concerning all of the person’s assets and debts, locate their estate planning documents, and set a consultation with an attorney. 

You may not need to pay the deceased person’s debts; at minimum, you can wait to pay them later. A probate estate or other probate filing may need to be done right away, or it may be best to wait due to a creditor situation. 

An attorney should make these determinations. Seeking legal advice first can often prevent paying a bill that did not need to be paid or spending money that was not supposed to be spent. 
A probate estate can be filed with the court whether the deceased person had a Will or did not have a Will. If the deceased person had less than $40,000.00 in assets, a full probate estate usually is not required unless insurance proceeds or pending litigation is involved.

What if the estate is worth less than $40,000.00?

When there are less than $40,000 of assets to probate, a Small Estate can be filed with the Probate Court. Any heir can assume the responsibility of asserting that all outstanding debts have been paid and then declaring who is legally entitled to the property. 

The process of filing a Small Estate is swift and relatively inexpensive. Unlike a full probate estate, a Small Estate can be filed after the one-year time limit from the date of death. If a spouse or minor children have survived the deceased, they can file a Refusal of Letters with the court.

What if the estate is worth MORE than $40,000 and probate was not properly opened?

If no estate is opened before the one-year time limit, a suit can be brought for a Determination of Heirs, or if the only asset is real estate, an Affidavit of Heirs can be recorded. 

A Determination of Heirs is obtained by petitioning the probate court for an order setting forth who is entitled to the property. If there was a Will, it would not be followed since, to be effective, it had to be admitted to probate before the one-year time frame. 

The court will follow Missouri law to determine the heirs’ names and ownership percentages. Only regarding real estate can the probate suit be avoided; with real estate, an Affidavit of Heirs can be recorded with the recorder of deeds office in the county where the property is located stating the names of the heirs of the property based on Missouri law.

Once a probate estate is opened, the court will appoint a personal representative to act on behalf of the estate. There are two ways in Missouri that a probate estate can be administered; Independent Administration and Court-Supervised Administration.

Administer a Probate Estate

Once a probate estate is opened, the court will appoint a representative to act on behalf of the estate. 

In Missouri, there are two ways to administer a probate estate: Independent Administration and Court-Supervised Administration.

Independent Administration

Independent Administration does not require court supervision for the basic administration of the estate. Section 473.780 of the Revised Statutes of the State of Missouri allows for probate of the estate to follow an independent administration when directed by the Will or when all heirs consent. By avoiding court orders for every action of the personal representative, an independent administration is usually much cheaper than a court-supervised administration. 

However, the personal representative does take on more risk since they bear the legal responsibility and would not have court orders protecting each of their decisions and actions. The heirs also must place more trust in the personal representative since the court will not oversee all actions taken on behalf of the estate.

Court-Supervised Administration

A court-supervised administration requires that the court enter an order authorizing the personal representative to perform the most needed actions in administering the estate. 

This can be cumbersome since selling any property, utilizing estate monies to maintain the property, paying bills, or making any decisions about the assets requires that the personal representative petition the court and then gain a court order allowing them to proceed. It often costs more attorneys’ fees for the estate in a court-supervised administration because more documents must be filed with the probate court. 

However, the personal representative usually has the protection of a court order if an heir later complains about an action they have taken, and heirs are satisfied that the court is involved in the personal representative’s actions.