The loss of a family member or loved one is typically followed by a period of mourning and grief. The last thing you usually want to think about during this time period are the practical and legal ramifications of your loved one’s death. The problem, however, is that it is during this time that a decedent’s Last Will and Testament is submitted for probate. It is also during this time that any challenges to the Will are typically submitted to the court. What happens if probate has concluded and you just now realize that there is something wrong with the Will used to probate the decedent’s estate? Is contesting a Will after probate possible in the State of Missouri and, if so, how do you do so?
The Purpose of Probate
When an individual dies, that person leaves behind an estate that is made up of all the assets owned by the decedent at the time of death. Some estates are relatively modest, consisting of nothing more than personal property and a small bank account. Other estates are large and complex being made up of complicated, diverse, and valuable assets. The value of the estate is relevant because smaller estates may qualify for a less formal alternative to formal probate; however, all estates – regardless of value – are subject to some type of probate process. The primary purpose of probate is to identify, locate, value, and eventually transfer all estate assets. Probate also gives creditors of the estate the opportunity to file claims against the estate and ensures that taxes owed by the state are paid.
The Probate Process
Although the probate process is never exactly the same for any two estates, there are some steps that are common to the probate of almost all estates, including:
- Initiating probate – if a Will was located, the individual named as the Executor initiates probate by filing a petition to probate the estate. The original copy of the Will must be submitted with the Will in order to authenticate the Will.
- Notifying creditors – known creditors are notified personally that the decedent’s estate is being probated while unknown creditors are notified via publication in a local newspaper.
- Reviewing claims – creditors have a statutory time within which they must submit a claim against the estate. The Executor reviews the claims submitted and pays approved claims out of estate assets.
- Calculating taxes – any state and/or federal gift and estate taxes due must be paid using estate assets before assets can be transferred out of the estate.
- Transferring assets – at the end of the probate process, all remaining assets are transferred to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
Contesting a Will after Probate
Sometimes, a beneficiary, heir, or other “interested party” believes that the Will submitted to the Probate Court is not valid. That individual has the right to challenge the Will by filing a Will contest with the court. Typically, if a Will is going to be challenged, the Will contest is filed early on in the probate process; however, can a Will be contested after probate is concluded in Missouri? Missouri Revised Statutes Section 473.083. governs the right to challenge a Last Will and Testament, stating as follows:
“Unless any person interested in the probate of a will appears within six months after the date of the probate or rejection thereof by the probate division of the circuit court, or within six months after the first publication of notice of granting of letters on the estate of the decedent, whichever is later, and, by petition filed with the clerk of the circuit court of the county, contests the validity of a probated will, or prays to have a will probated which has been rejected by the probate division of the circuit court, then probate or rejection of the will is binding.”
In short, there is a very specific time frame within which you must initiate a challenge to a Will submitted for probate. Failing to pursue the matter within that time frame effectively waives your right to do so. The primary reason behind this is simple. Once probate has reached a conclusion, all remaining estate assets are legally transferred out of the estate to the new owners. Challenging the Will at this point would create havoc, particularly if the contestant was successful. If you are concerned that a Last Will and Testament submitted for probate is not valid, consult with an experienced Missouri estate planning attorney right away to discuss your concerns and your legal options.
If you have additional questions or concerns regarding contesting a Will, contact the experienced Missouri estate planning lawyers at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.