Few people manage to make it through their entire lifetime without the need to become involved in the probate of an estate. Whether you find yourself named as the Executor of an estate, or you seem to be elected by unspoken consent to volunteer as the Personal Representative of an estate, you could end up overseeing the probate of an estate. You might also simply learn that you are the beneficiary of an estate or even a creditor. Even if you manage to avoid becoming involved in the probate of someone else’s estate, you still need to understand some probate basics in order to properly plan your own estate. With that in mind, consider the following five things you need to know about St. Louis probate law.
What Is Probate?
Before moving on the specifics, a general explanation of the probate process is in order. When someone dies, an estate is left behind consisting of all the assets that person owned at the time of death. Ultimately, those assets need to be distributed to beneficiaries or heirs of the estate; however, before that can happen the law requires the estate to go through the legal process known as probate. Probate serves as a way to ensure that creditors of the estate have an opportunity to file claims against the estate and that all state and federal gift and estate taxes are paid. It also serves to authenticate the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, if one was left behind, or to challenge the Will if an heir/beneficiary believes that the Will is not valid for any reason.
5 Things about St. Louis Probate Law
- Missouri offers alternatives for a small estate. If an estate is required to go through formal probate it will take months, maybe even years, to reach a conclusion. Not only does that cost the estate in terms of money, but the intended beneficiaries or heirs must also wait until the end of the process to receive their estate gifts. Fortunately, Missouri does offer alternatives to formal probate for small estates that qualify. Both summary probate and a simple affidavit are alternative methods of probating an estate that qualifies.
- The law regulates an Executor’s compensation in Missouri. Acting as Executor can be a time consuming and stressful endeavor. The law does compensate you if for that time and trouble though. Under Missouri probate law, however, an Executor is paid according to the probate value of an estate. The executor can receive a minimum of 5 percent of the first $5,000 of probate value, 4 percent of the next $20,000, 3 percent of the next $75,000, 2.75 percent of the next $300,000, 2.5 percent of the next $600,000 and 2 percent of any balance over that first $1 million.
- There are only a few reasons why a Will can be challenged in Missouri. Contrary to popular belief – and what you may have read in a gossip magazine, you cannot contest a Will based on the fact that you are unhappy with the inheritance you were left (or not left) in the Will. To contest a Will you must allege — and prove to be successful – one of the following grounds that can invalid a Will: undue influence; lack of testamentary capacity; fraud; or the existence of another Will.
- A Will doesn’t always have to be in writing. Although it is certainly not recommended that you rely on an unwritten Last Will and Testament, the State of Missouri does recognize nuncupative (oral) Wills as well as holographic (handwritten) Wills if certain conditions are met.
- You might be able to avoid probate completely in Missouri. If you are planning your own estate, avoiding probate may be one of your goals. With careful planning, you can drastically reduce your estate’s exposure to, if not completely avoid, probate. One common strategy used to avoid probate is to rely on a trust to distribute property because assets held in a trust bypass the probate process altogether.
Contact St. Louis Probate Law Attorneys
If you have additional questions or concerns about St. Louis probate law, contact the experienced St. Louis estate planning attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.