What is Probate?
Probate refers to the process of “proving” a will in court. In addition, it generally refers to the process in which the debts of an estate are paid and its assets distributed amongst its beneficiaries. During probate, the personal representative or administrator has certain duties (this person is called a personal representative if he or she is named by the will or an administrator if he or she appointed by the court). Typically, these include:
- Obtain a copy of the latest will
- File a petition with the court to admit the will to probate
- Collect the decedent’s assets
- Find any assets that may be unknown
- Safeguard all of the estate’s assets and interest
- Inventory and appraise the assets of the estate
- Pay all valid claims against the estate
- Pay any state and federal taxes
- Pay all attorneys, court, and appraisal fees
- Distribute the estate’s assets according to the terms of the will
Can Personal Representatives or Administrators Enlist the Assistance of an Attorney?
Yes. Both personal representatives and administrators can retain legal counsel to assist them. Importantly, they can retain an attorney to consult with on specific matters or hand the entire process over to a lawyer in total. If you’ve found yourself as the executor or administrator of an estate and feel overwhelmed with your responsibilities, there is good news: Missouri law authorizes you to retain an attorney to help you at the expense of the estate.
Can You Avoid Probate?
Yes. You can avoid probate by providing alternative means of transfer for your assets. Some of these include placing your assets into a living trust and naming beneficiaries, using beneficiary deeds for the ownership of real or personal property, joint ownership of property with the right of survivorship, and naming beneficiaries on bank and retirement accounts. Importantly, even if you intend to transfer your entire estate outside of probate, you should still have a will just in case you forget to account for certain assets.
What Happens if There Is No Will?
If a person passes away without a will and has not made other arrangements for the disposition of or her assets, Missouri’s intestate succession laws will apply. These laws distribute a decedent’s assets among his or her heirs in a way that is loosely proportionate to their degree of relation to the decedent, with a strong preference to a surviving spouse. Distribution according to the laws of intestate succession is often extremely complicated and time-consuming, and it also has the potential to result in disputes between family members. For this reason, it’s advisable to avoid it whenever possible.
Call the Law Offices of Kenneth P. Carp Today to Speak with a Missouri Probate and Estate Planning Lawyer
If you are involved in probate or are interested in creating a comprehensive estate plan, you should speak to an attorney as soon as you can. St. Louis & St. Charles estate planning attorney Kenneth P. Carp has been practicing law for more than 25 years and is available for free, no-obligation consultations. To schedule an appointment with Mr. Carp, call our office today at (636) 947-3600 or send us an email through our online contact form.