Probate, the courts’ method of addressing a deceased person’s, or “decedent”, estate, can take many paths. The process can be short and simple, or it can be lengthy. Where a particular decedent’s estate falls on the spectrum rests on the size of the estate, whether a will exists, and whether there is a dispute of some kind.
A decedent who died with a will has died “testate.” To die without a will is called dying “intestate.” Although it’s possible to plan an estate that mostly avoids probate, estates without a will must pass through probate.
With A Will
Depending on a decedent’s estate plan, a will may need to be probated. To begin the process, a will must be filed with the Circuit Court within one year of the decedent’s death. So long as there is no dispute over the will, the will’s contents decide what happens to a decedent’s property.
In Missouri, estates over $40,000 go through a standard probate process while smaller estates have a more simplified version. Probate has both formal and informal processes, which may or may not be related to the size of the estate.
In informal probate, a court does not supervise property distribution. Informal probate is often used for family and others associated with an estate demonstrate positive relationships and desire to work quickly and easily.
Formal probate has two types and is used for estates with high conflict. In the first type, a court partially supervises the distribution of assets. In the second, the court completely supervises the distribution.
Some estates can completely avoid the probate process with proper estate planning. Planning can include wills, trusts, joint accounts with survivorship rights, and life insurance policies with identified beneficiaries. Dying with a plan for your estate and loved ones is more beneficial.
Without A Will
Missouri’s intestate succession laws apply when a decedent dies without a will. These laws may or may not be reflective of what a decedent wishes would happen with the estate. Surviving spouses and children are first in line of succession. If there are no surviving children or a spouse, property moves to parents and siblings.
If an immediate heir cannot be identified, other family members may become heirs. To ensure that your estate is reflective of your wishes, it’s best to have a thought-out plan in place.