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What is Probate and do I even need it?

Updated: Aug 10, 2023

Probate court in Missouri is designated for the specific purpose of settling one’s estate after they become deceased. It is the formal, court-supervised process of validating ones last wishes as notated in their Last Will & Testament.

On average matters in probate court are brought to a close within 18-24 months. The average cost for probate is $15,000.00.

It is no secret that the probate process is both lengthy and costly however, did you know that ALL Will’s in the state of Missouri MUST go through probate court to be enforced? Not only must a Will go through Probate to be enforced, but all assets within the Estate are subject to debtors before any assets can transfer or be released to the decedent/deceased’s Estate. A legal publication must be made notifying the public and or all interested parties that an estate has been open therefore publicizing, the decedent/deceased’s Will.

Common reasons you may need to go through the probate process include:

· Your deceased loved one only had a Last Will & Testament in place at the time of death.

· Your loved one dies intestate (to die intestate is to die without a will, more on this below).

While probate can be costly, it exists to protect your loved one and the integrity of their estate, to ensure that last arrangements are implemented such as proper burial, valid filing of death certificate, and that taxes associated with real property have been maintained but most importantly that assets are transferred to the intended recipients.

Like any law, Probate law is subject to jurisdiction and can vary by state. With this in mind, Kentner law has created an heirship guide for anyone navigating the probate process in Missouri. Please click here to access the guide.

What happens when your loved one passes away without a Will?

To die without a Last Will & Testament commonly known as Will is to die intestate. If this happens Missouri Law requires the use of a succession table to determine how assets will be divided. Assets will first go to the surviving spouse. If there were children born of this union, then all assets transfer to the then surviving spouse in whole. If there were children born of a previous marriage, then assets will be divided between the surviving spouse and the biological children of the decedent in equal parts. If a child predeceases the decedent, then the portion of that child’s inheritance will pass on to any children he/she may have in equal parts. The following list shows the succession breakdown in the order in which Missouri Probate law follows.

  1. Surviving spouse

  2. Children and grandchildren

  3. Parents

  4. Siblings

  5. Grandparents

  6. Aunts & uncles

  7. Other extended family

Please click on our comprehensive guide to see further relationship pass throughs.

Although, it is possible for the government to receive your assets if you do not have proper planning in place, it is rare. Intestacy laws are designed to ensure your family inherits your Estate before it is inherited by the government through Escheat. The comprehensive succession planning while not perfect, is in place to protect you.

Which legal document or contract do you need? A Will or Trust?

As mentioned earlier all Will’s must go through probate to be enforced. Probate requires the hiring of an attorney and is public in nature as it must be presented to the public before it can be collected. Due to their public nature, they offer little protection against debtors and are often challenged. People with minimal assets or simple estates may benefit from a Will. Trusts are confidential contracts that become active while you are alive and are designed to help you avoid probate court saving both time and money. The long-term cost savings associated with preparing your Trust far outweighs the long-term cost and burden of hiring a probate attorney to present your Will along with its associated fees. Additionally, Trust are more likely to accomplish what you want as they are much more comprehensive. With a Trust you can control how your assets are distributed while you're living and even after death. Trust allows for the appointment of a medical director should you become incapacitated, trust are also good for people who own multiple assets, a business or a home. Based on the rules of Heirship people who are a part of a blended family would especially benefit from the protection of a Trust contract.

In closing, Wills are considered the bare minimum in Estate planning and are often challenged in probate court. Trust are more comprehensive, much harder to challenge and are designed to avoid probate court. #KentnerLaw #estateplanning #willsvstrusts #lastwillandtestament #trustlaw #protectyourestate #avoidprobate

Jace Kentner regularly writes and speaks on various legal topics including estate planning, probate and elder law. He formed Kentner Law LLC, in 2001. He has two Missouri offices: 107 W 9th st 2nd floor-#0449 Kansas City MO. 64105 and

4625 Lindell Blvd 2nd Floor-#2373 St. Louis, Mo 63108

Mr. Kentner earned his juris doctorate degree from Drake University School of Law in 1996 where he graduated Phi Alpha Delta. While at Drake Mr. Kentner also served as Editor for Drakes Law journal. After law School Mr. Kentner went on an obtained his Masters in Health Services Administration. During undergrad Mr. Kentner attended Missouri State University where he also graduated with honors. You may find him at or (573) 708-7870 or on Facebook or LinkedIn

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