Probate is the state process for making sure a deceased Missourian's estate pays off his debts and transfers assets to his heirs. It can take as little as six months, attorney Pamela Wright says online, but it's more likely to run seven to 10 months. If the estate is small, probate can wrap up much faster.
If the deceased designated you as the executor in the will, you must apply to the court for letters testamentary to confirm you in the role. You then publish a notice of the death, which gives creditors six months to file claims against the estate. You must also administer the estate, taking inventory of the assets, paying bills and taxes out of the estate funds and settling debts. When you've paid off the creditors, you present the probate court with a plan for distributing the estate to the heirs and, once the court approves it, carry out the plan.
Missouri law exempts certain items from probate on the grounds that the deceased's family is entitled to them no matter what provisions she made in her will or how her property is divided up if she died intestate. The exemption includes the family Bible, books, clothing, furniture and one automobile, among other items. The surviving spouse and any minor children are also entitled to a one-year living allowance from the estate. If the exemption and allowance consume most of the estate, full probate won't be necessary.
If the estate is worth less than $40,000, one of the heirs can file for a small-estate certificate 30 days after the death. The heir must then file an affidavit promising to pay the estate's debts and distribute the property according to the will, or to the law if the deceased died intestate. This ends the probate process, though the heir must carry through on his commitment. That includes publishing the death announcement to alert creditors unless the estate is worth under $15,000.
Contesting a Will
Someone with an interest in the will has roughly six months after probate begins to file a petition contesting the will. Interested individuals include heirs, beneficiaries of the deceased's trust, heirs of an alleged second will and anyone who bought out the heir's interest. The challenger must notify other heirs and interested parties of the contest, or present the court with reasons why they couldn't be contacted. Challenging the will or contesting a debt someone claims the deceased owed could stretch out the time needed for probate.