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An Overview of The Probate Process.

The Probate Law Center Feb. 22, 2022

When an individual dies without a Last Will & Testament, or with a Last Will & Testament directing the Court to give certain assets to certain individuals, this process is call 'probate' and is also referred to as estate administration.

The first step in the probate process is to determine who will serve as the Personal Representative. This person will be in charge of collecting all of the decedent's assets, identifying any creditors of the estate, filing all of the paperwork with the Court, and ultimately distributing the assets. If the individual died with a Last Will & Testament, that document will usually state who should act as the Personal Representative. If there is no Last Will & Testament, the Personal Representative can be chosen by agreement of the family, or the Court will decide who should be named Personal Representative.

The next step is the filing an Application for Letters in the county where the individual died, or in the county where the individual owned property. In some instances, a probate estate may be necessary in the county where the individual died, and a separate probate estate may be necessary in a different state where the individual owned property. Along with the Application for Letters, the Court will usually require a list of the heirs-at-law (siblings, children, parents, grand children, etc.).

Once the Court has appointed a Personal Representative and they are granted Letters of Administration, notice must be published to any unknown creditors in the local paper for the county where the probate estate is opened. This begins a waiting period known in the law as the non-claim period. In Missouri, the waiting period is six months, in Kansas it's only four. During this waiting period, creditors are allowed to come forward and file their claims against the estate for any money owed by the decedent at their death. Usually, these claims are for credit cards, cellular phone bills, medical bills, past due taxes, but can include nearly any type of debt.

After the non-claim period has ended, there is a series of closing paperwork that needs to be filed with the Court. This closing paperwork includes an inventory of the assets and debts of the estate, a list of which assets should be distributed to which heirs, and a final accounting. 

In both Missouri and Kansas, an attorney is required to open a probate estate if the assets are more than $40,000. Finally, there are actual costs for probating an estate including the filing fee for the Court, the publication fee paid to the newspaper, and occasionally postage fees. 

If you need to open a probate estate for your loved ones, our team has the experience to assist you each step of the way.