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Understanding the Basics of Probate Law in Missouri

Wed 17 May, by on Estate Planning, Probate

Understanding the Basics of Probate Law in Missouri

Probate law is a critical yet often overlooked area of law that deals with the distribution and management of a person’s estate after their death. This area of law ensures that the decedent’s debts are paid, and their assets are distributed according to their last will and testament. If no will exists, probate law provides a default plan for distribution. In this blog post, we will explore the basics of probate law in Missouri.

What is Probate?

Probate is a legal process that takes place after someone dies. It involves proving in court that a deceased person’s will is valid, identifying and inventorying the deceased person’s property, having the property appraised, paying debts and taxes, and finally distributing the remaining property as the will (or state law, if there’s no will) directs. Probate typically involves paperwork and court appearances by lawyers, and the lawyers’ fees are paid from the estate property.

Probate in Missouri

In Missouri, the probate process is overseen by the local probate court within the county where the decedent resided at the time of their death. The process begins when the executor, named in the will, or an administrator (if there’s no will), presents the will for probate in court. If the will is deemed valid, the court will formally appoint the executor or administrator, giving them legal authority to act on behalf of the estate.

Probate Assets vs Non-Probate Assets

Not all assets need to go through probate. Only probate assets, those owned solely by the deceased person, are subject to probate in Missouri. These could include individual bank accounts, personal property, and real estate owned solely by the decedent.

Non-probate assets, on the other hand, are not subject to probate. These are typically assets that have a designated beneficiary or are jointly owned. Examples include life insurance policies, retirement accounts, jointly owned property, and assets held in a living trust.

The Probate Process

In Missouri, the probate process begins with the filing of a petition in the probate court. This is typically done by the person named as executor in the will or by an interested party if there is no will. Once the executor is appointed, they are responsible for several tasks:

  1. Notification: The executor must notify all creditors, heirs, and beneficiaries that the estate is in probate.
  2. Inventory and Appraisal: The executor is required to inventory and appraise the decedent’s assets.
  3. Payment of Debts and Taxes: Any outstanding debts and taxes must be paid from the estate.
  4. Distribution of Assets: After all debts and taxes have been paid, the remaining assets are distributed according to the will, or if there’s no will, according to Missouri’s intestacy laws.
  5. Closing the Estate: Finally, the executor must prepare a final accounting showing how the estate was managed. Once approved by the court, the estate can be closed.

Intestate Succession

If a person dies without a will, they are said to have died “intestate.” In such cases, Missouri’s intestate succession laws determine how the decedent’s assets are distributed. Generally, the decedent’s closest relatives, such as their spouse and children, will inherit the assets. If there are no close relatives, the assets may be distributed to more distant relatives, such as siblings, parents, or cousins.

Avoiding Probate in Missouri

In Missouri, you can make an estate plan to avoid probate for virtually any asset you own—real estate, bank accounts, vehicles, and so on. You can usually avoid probate for an asset

by either (1) naming a beneficiary, (2) owning property jointly, or (3) using a revocable living trust.

A revocable living trust allows the grantor to maintain control of their assets during their lifetime and to transfer ownership to their beneficiaries after their death, without the need for court-supervised probate. The grantor, trustee, and beneficiary can all be the same person, allowing for a seamless transition of control upon the grantor’s death.


While the probate process in Missouri may seem complex, understanding the basic principles can greatly ease the process. It’s also important to remember that planning ahead can help avoid probate altogether, providing a smoother transition for your loved ones.

This blog post is a general overview and does not constitute legal advice. Probate law can be complex and varies depending on individual circumstances. It’s always advisable to consult with a knowledgeable probate attorney to understand the implications for your specific situation.

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