Probate refers to the legal process of settling an estate after someone dies. It involves establishing the validity of a will, distributing assets to the relevant beneficiaries, and a few other crucial steps. Probate is usually handled by an executor, who is a key player in a decedent’s will.
If you were named as an executor, you should work with an experienced estate planning attorney to make sure you fulfill your duties under law. An O’Fallon probate lawyer could answer questions, outline your obligations, and help ensure that you respect the decedent’s estate planning wishes during this nuanced process.
What Does Probate Entail?
Most estates are required to pass through probate. The first stage of the process involves validating a will. For a will to be valid, it must contain the signatures of the testator and two witnesses, be in writing, name a beneficiary. Then, if an estate is worth more than $40,000, the executor can navigate probate by:
- Filing a petition with the St. Charles County Circuit Court to open probate
- Seeking court approval on the named executor or let the court appoint an executor if one is not named in the will
- Inventorying the decedent’s assets and consulting an appraiser if the executor cannot fairly value them
- Publishing a legal notice to the decedent’s creditors
- Paying creditors
- Filing the decedent’s final income tax forms and paying any outstanding federal or state taxes
Finally, the executor distributes assets to the relevant heirs and closes the estate. While the steps listed above might seem confusing, a dedicated O’Fallon lawyer could help an executor navigate probate and resolve any complications that might arise.
Does Probate Subject an Estate to Taxes?
Missouri law does not impose an inheritance or estate tax on its residents, but heirs could still owe money if a property is located in one of the six states that does levy an inheritance tax. Meanwhile, the federal government does tax estates worth more $12.06 million (or $24.12 million if the estate is jointly owned).
Probate for Smaller Estates
State law establishes a simplified process for estates worth $40,000 or less. The person acting as executor, often a spouse, must submit a written request to the court, pledge responsibility for paying the decedent’s final debts, and assume responsibility for distributing assets to heirs. The executor must also submit a full inventory of the estate, complete with the value of all property.
Finally, if an estate is worth more than $15,000, a notice of the decedent’s passing needs to be included in a local newspaper for creditors to reference. These creditors have one year to collect any debt from the decedent’s estate.
Intestate Succession and Probate
The state’s intestate succession laws direct how the court distributes assets during probate if the decedent did not draft a will. If there are no children from a marriage, the surviving spouse inherits the estate. If the decedent does have children, the surviving spouse inherits the first $20,000 of the estate’s value in addition to 50 percent of the balance, with the rest split among the children.
In short, failing to draft a will could have significant consequences during probate. Thankfully, a seasoned O’Fallon attorney could help with explaining intestacy laws, validating a will, and keeping an estate free from unnecessary complications during the probate process.
Call an O’Fallon Probate Attorney to Learn More
If you were recently appointed as an estate executor, you might struggle to understand your obligations or duties under law. Probate can be challenging, and there are many roadblocks that could trip up the average person.
Do not attempt to navigate probate alone. Instead, bring your case to a dedicated O’Fallon probate lawyer. Our legal team could answer your questions, help you inventory your estate, and explain your next steps. Reach out today to schedule your initial consultation.