The process of probate is an essential part of estate planning and administration. The question of how long probate takes in Missouri, as in any state, depends on several factors, including the size of the estate, the existence of a will, and the efficiency of the executor or personal representative. In general, probate in Missouri can take anywhere from several months to over a year. In this blog post, we will delve into the factors that influence the length of the probate process in Missouri and offer some practical tips for navigating it effectively.
The more complex and valuable the estate, the longer things are likely to take:
In Missouri, the complexity and value of an estate can substantially influence the duration of the probate process. This is due to the tasks involved in identifying, locating, appraising, and managing various types of assets, meeting potential debts and tax obligations, and dealing with possible disputes among beneficiaries or heirs.
Real estate, for instance, can have a significant impact on the timeline. If the deceased owned property in multiple states, each property might need to be probated separately in its respective jurisdiction, adding to the complexity and length of the process. Moreover, certain types of assets such as businesses can also complicate matters, requiring extra steps to value, transfer, or sell, which can be time-consuming and may necessitate specialized legal and financial expertise.
Missouri also recognizes non-probate assets, which are assets that bypass the probate process and pass directly to the named beneficiaries. These include life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and properties held in joint tenancy. While these assets can expedite the process, identifying, locating, and managing them can still take time.
Furthermore, if an estate's value is over $40,000, it will likely need to undergo a formal probate process, which is more complex and lengthy than a small estate probate process. This valuation does not include non-probate assets and certain exempt property.
If the deceased died “intestate” (that means they didn’t have a will), probate usually takes a lot longer:
When a person dies without a valid will, they are said to have died "intestate". In such cases, the estate is distributed according to Missouri's intestacy laws, which can add significant time to the probate process.
Without a will to provide clear instructions, the court must appoint an administrator, which can be a time-consuming process if there are multiple interested parties or disagreements. Additionally, the administrator has the responsibility to identify and inventory the deceased's assets, pay any debts and taxes, and distribute the remaining assets according to Missouri's intestacy laws. This can be a complex and time-consuming process, especially if the deceased's financial affairs were not in order.
Disputes among surviving family members over who should inherit what can lead to legal battles, which can significantly prolong the probate process and may even lead to court intervention.
If trusts are involved, the process is usually slower:
Trusts, although often created to avoid probate, can sometimes complicate and prolong the probate process. This is primarily due to the intricacies involved in managing and distributing the assets held in the trust.
The trustee is responsible for managing these assets in accordance with the directions outlined in the trust agreement, which can be a detailed and time-consuming task. Furthermore, if there are disputes over the trust's validity or the management of its assets, these disputes can take considerable time to resolve and may even necessitate court intervention.
The presence of multiple trusts or tax issues related to trusts can also complicate the probate process and extend the timeline.
Matters of guardianship will also slow down the probate process:
When a deceased individual leaves behind minor children, the probate process often becomes more complicated and lengthy due to the need to establish guardianship for the minors.
In Missouri, if a parent dies and the other parent is already deceased or deemed unfit, a guardian must be appointed for any minor children. Even if a guardian is named in the will, the court still has to approve the choice to ensure it is in the best interest of the children.
The guardian may need to establish a guardianship estate if the minor inherits assets. The guardian must manage these assets on behalf of the minor until they reach the age of majority, and this process requires court oversight. This can delay the overall probate process.
Claims on the estate — either from creditors or other family members — can make things take a lot longer:
Claims against the estate, either from creditors or potential heirs, can significantly extend the probate process. In Missouri, the executor or personal representative is required to publish a notice to creditors in a local newspaper, and creditors have six months to file their claims against the estate.
Potential heirs may also come forward with claims against the estate, either contesting the validity of the will or asserting their right to a portion of the estate. Resolving these disputes can add substantial time to the probate process.
The probate process — and how long each stage takes:
The probate process in Missouri consists of several stages, each with its own typical timeline. Understanding these steps can help you estimate how long probate might take.
- Opening the Estate: This begins with filing a petition to open the estate with the local probate court, which usually occurs within a month after death. The court then appoints an executor or personal representative.
- Notification of Heirs and Creditors: The executor is required to notify all potential heirs and known creditors of the decedent's death. This can take a few weeks to a few months.
- Inventory and Appraisal: The executor must then inventory the decedent's assets and have them appraised to determine their value. This process can take several months.
- Payment of Debts and Taxes: The executor must use the estate's funds to pay off any outstanding debts and taxes. Resolving all claims can take several months.
- Distribution of the Remaining Assets: After all debts and taxes have been paid, the executor can distribute the remaining assets to the heirs. This process can take a few weeks to a few months.
- Closing the Estate: Lastly, the executor must prepare a final accounting and submit it to the court for approval. Once approved, the estate can be officially closed. This last step can take a few weeks to a few months.
What to do if your executor isn’t moving probate along properly:
If you feel the executor of the estate is not fulfilling their duties properly, you can raise your concerns with the probate court. In Missouri, the executor has a fiduciary duty to manage the estate in the best interest of the beneficiaries. If the executor is not meeting their obligations, the court may order them to provide a detailed report of their actions, supervise them more closely, or in extreme cases, remove them and appoint a new executor.
Removing an executor is a serious action and typically a last resort. The court will generally only consider this if there's clear evidence of misconduct or inability to perform the required duties.