A Simple Guide to How Probate Works in Missouri

Probate is the process of transferring property from a deceased individual to living individuals. Sounds simple, right? Yet, it can quickly become complicated and expensive.

In Missouri, each county has a probate court that handles these transfers. However, probate takes time. The Missouri Bar advises that “the earliest that an estate may be closed and distribution made to the heirs or beneficiaries is approximately six months and 10 days after the date of first publication. However, it often takes a year or more to finish the administration.”

What happens during that time?

  • 1. Hire an attorney to represent you. Make sure it is someone familiar with Missouri probate.
  • 2. Apply for Letters (if there is a Will, the Letters are called “Letters Testamentary”; if there is no will, the Letters are called “Letters of Administration”)
  • 3. Publish notice to creditors. This notice is important because it alerts creditors that an estate has been open and gives them information on how to submit any claims they may have.
  • 4. Inventory and appraise assets.
  • 5. Maintain estate property. Pay taxes, electric bills, insurance, etc.
  • 6. Pay debts.
  • 7. Keep careful records. You’ll need to prepare a “Settlement” showing where every dollar has gone.
  • 8. Obtain court approval to distribute the reminder of the estate.
  • 9. Close the estate.

If you are looking for a Missouri attorney to help you sort through probate, from opening an estate to getting funds distributed to the intended parties, we would be happy to help.

How to Avoid Having Your Car, Trust, Boat, or Trailer end up in Probate

Missouri is a common sense state and most of our laws reflect that. Missouri has a whole chapter of laws dedicated to non-probate transfers. These are ways that individuals can name or designate a beneficiary and thereby avoiding probate. One of the areas I see this most often relates to vehicles owned by a deceased individual.

This week I had a gentleman call. His father had passed away and had left an old boat and trailer. The total value of the boat and trailer were approximately $500. Yet, because the father had not designated a beneficiary, the boat and trailer were still in his name. The son was calling to find out how much it would cost to have a small estate opened in probate court so he could get the boat and trailer retitled in his name.

At $500, the question became whether the son thought it was worth the cost to do the small estate. The son decided it was and we were able to help him file a small estate. Yet, this headache could have been prevented with a little planning. The father could have simply added a Transfer on Death (TOD) to the title of both the boat and the trailer.

What is a TOD?
TOD stands for Transfer on Death. It is a simple way to transfer ownership of your vehicle, trailer, or equipment to another at the death of the owner. It is a very easy and cost effective way to avoid probate.

How do I add a TOD?
Fill out a Fill out Application for Missouri Title and License (Form 108). In most instances, you can simply go to the license bureau and they will fill out this form for you, you will complete the “TOD Beneficiaries, If Applicable” box, sign, have it notarized, pay the fee ($11.00 total – $8.50 title fee; $2.50 processing fee) and you are done.

What to do after Death?
Return to the license bureau. Again, usually they are very helpful. They will help you obtain a title in the beneficiary’s name. The new title will cost $11.00.