At some time in your life you will likely be involved in the probate of an estate. You might be named as the executor, volunteer to be the personal representative, or simply be a beneficiary or heir of an estate. Even if you somehow manage to escape all of these roles, you should still have an understanding of how long the probate process typically takes so that you can keep this in mind when creating your own estate plan.
When an individual dies, the law usually requires the deceased’s estate to pass through some form of probate. Probate is intended to provide a legal mechanism by which assets of the decedent’s estate can be legally passed down to beneficiaries and heirs as well as to ensure that creditors of the estate are paid. Because the probate process can be lengthy, probate avoidance is a common goal of estate planning.
Missouri, like most states, does offer a simplified probate process for estates that are valued at less than $40,000. If the estate does not qualify for a simplified procedure it must go through formal probate. Under the best of circumstances, the earliest that an estate can make it through formal probate is just over six months. Most estates, however, take considerably longer than this to complete the probate process.
Probate requires a number of steps to complete. Although each estate is unique, the most basic steps required during probate include:
- Petitioning the court to open probate
- Location of all estate assets by executor/personal representative
- Valuation of all estate assets
- Notification of the probate by publication
- Determination of legal heirs if decedent died intestate (without a Will)
- Filing of creditor claims against the estate
- Review of creditor claims
- Approval and payment of claims or denial of claims
- Litigation involving claims or a challenge to the decedent’s Last Will and Testament
- Preparation and payment of taxes
- Transfer of estate assets to beneficiaries or heirs
As a general rule, the longer it takes to probate an estate the higher the cost to the estate in the form of attorney fees, executor fees, and professional fees as well as the costs involved in maintaining and managing estate property during probate. Moreover, estate assets are typically held up and unavailable to beneficiaries or heirs until probate is complete. For these reasons, a comprehensive estate plan should include strategies aimed at avoiding, or limiting exposure to, the probate process.