The loss of a family member or loved one is generally an emotional time period for everyone involved. The last thing you may want to think about if you recently lost a loved one are the legal ramifications of your loved one’s death. If you were named as the Executor of the estate in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, or if you appear to be nominated to volunteer as the Personal Representative if the decedent died intestate, you will need to start focusing on probating the estate. At the Missouri estate planning firm of Amen, Gantner & Capriano we understand how difficult it can be to focus on legalities when you are still grieving a loss. We also know that the probate process can be intimidating if you have never been through it before. To help you get started in your role as Executor or Personal Representative we have created the following probate checklist of items involved in the probate of most estates.
- Look for an original copy of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. If you were named as Executor the decedent likely gave you a copy. If you do not have a copy yourself, however, contact the decedent’s spouse, children, and/or estate planning attorney and ask if they have a copy. If no Will is located, proceed on the assumption that the estate is an intestate estate, meaning the decedent died without executing a Will prior to death.
- Confirm that you are named as the Executor in the Will if one is located.
- If the decedent died intestate, confer with family members to ensure that you will be the one to volunteer as the Personal Representative of the estate.
- Check for additional estate planning documents left by the decedent, such as life insurance policies, trust agreements, or lists of assets and debts.
- Consult with an experienced Missouri estate planning attorney. Most Executors/PRs retain the services of an attorney to help them through the probate process.
- Locate and secure any known assets. This might entail things such as closing financial accounts or taking charge of real property.
- Obtain several certified copies of the decedent’s death certificate to submit to the court, financial account holders, and creditors. This can be done through the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
- Make a list of all known estate assets or update the ones you found. Include as much detail as possible on your lists as it will help you throughout the probate process.
- Divide assets into “probate” and “non-probate” assets. Some assets are not required to go through probate. Instead, they pass automatically to beneficiaries outside of the probate process. Non-probate assets may include things such as assets held in a trust, certain types of jointly held property, and insurance proceeds.
- Determine if the estate requires formal probate. Small estates may qualify for an alternative to formal probate for small estates.
- Identify the legal heirs to the estate. If the decedent died intestate, the legal heirs will inherit the estate assets according to the Missouri intestate succession laws. Even if a Will was left behind you will still need to identify the legal heirs.
- Initiate the probate process by submitting the Will (if applicable), along with a petition to open probate, to the appropriate probate court. Generally, probate occurs in the county where the decedent was a resident at the time of death. You will also need to petition to officially be appointed the Executor or ask to be appointed the PR at this time.
- Obtain a date of death value for all estate assets. This may require the assistance of professional appraisers.
- Notify known creditors individually. Unknown creditors must be notified via publication in a local newspaper.
- Review all claims filed against the estate and decide which claims to approve and which claims to deny.
- Pay approved claims using estate assets. If the estate lacks liquid assets you may have to sell assets to raise the necessary funds to pay claims. If sufficient assets do not exist to pay all claims, claims are paid according to priority as established by law.
- Calculate, prepare, and pay any federal and/or state gift and estate taxes.
- Submit a closing inventory to the court if required to do so.
- Prepare the legal documents necessary to facilitate the transfer of the remaining estate assets to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
If you have specific questions or concerns regarding the probate of an estate, or you would like to discuss retaining an experienced estate planning attorney to assist you in the administration of an estate, contact the experienced St. Louis, Missouri estate planning attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.