Probate is a process overseen by a judge that collects a deceased individual’s property, pays their debts and taxes from that property, and distributes the remainder of their assets to designated heirs. Probate is necessary even if the deceased person, often called the decedent, had a valid will.

Not all property is subject to probate. Anything an individual owns with a spouse becomes their partner’s property upon the decedent’s passing. Life insurance policies and financial accounts that name a beneficiary also go immediately to a recipient.

A loved one’s death can be devastating, and facing legal or financial matters might be challenging, but an estate planning attorney could help. A Park Hills probate lawyer could guide family members through the process and ensure that all assets are distributed properly.

How Does the Probate Process Work?

When someone dies, any property in their name no longer has an owner. Similarly, a person’s debts still exist after they pass. Probate is the process of paying a deceased person’s debts and distributing the remaining property to an heir.

If a decedent left a will, it might name a person to oversee their estate. An overseer will identify a decedent’s creditors, gather their property, sell items to pay their debts, and distribute the remainder of assets as directed in their will.

If a decedent did not have a will, a Probate Court would name someone to serve as an estate’s personal representative. A personal representative is often a family member. Whether a will named a representative or a court appointed one, this person must file periodic inventories and reports with the relevant court. A probate lawyer in Park Hills could guide a personal representative to ensure they comply with all legal requirements.

Paying Estate Debts

Probate ensures that a decedent’s property is accounted for, their debts are paid, and their assets transfer to the correct parties. The probate process can take many months. If a personal representative completes the necessary tasks, probate may conclude within six months. However, if gathering the assets is complicated, the delegate must sell real estate to pay the decedent’s debts. Likewise, if heirs argue about a property, the process could take much longer.

When someone passes, their creditors have six months from the date of public notice of death to submit their claim to probate court. After six months, a personal representative pays the debts with the estate’s cash, if sufficient. If the money does not pay for the debt, a personal representative might have to sell a decedent’s property to pay it off.

Often, creditors agree to accept less payment in return for immediate remittance. An experienced probate attorney in Park Hills could help a personal representative negotiate a discounted debt payment and ensure that the agreement will protect the estate from future claims.

Avoiding Probate Court

Managing an estate through the probate process is time-consuming and stressful for a delegate. If a decedent leaves substantial assets, or if heirs disagree, probate can be expensive and cause family rifts.

Families could avoid probate if a decedent’s estate is small. Missouri Revised Statutes §473.097 permits an expedited process for estates valued at less than $40,000. For example, an heir can submit a letter to a Probate Court providing an estate’s value, an inventory of its assets, and additional information, requesting a simplified probate process. In many cases, a court will allow an heir to distribute estate assets without going through probate.

For larger estates, avoiding probate requires a decedent to take specific steps while they are living. For example, a person might own their real estate with a spouse and implement a right of survivorship on the deed. Other property, including bank accounts, may transfer to a designated beneficiary outside of probate. Either of these decisions could help valuable assets avoid the probate process. A knowledgeable lawyer in Park Hills could advise an individual about avoiding probate for a decedent’s property.

Take Your Estate to a Park Hills Probate Attorney

Managing your loved one’s estate after their death can be emotional and complicated. However, it helps to have a knowledgeable professional on your side.

If your loved one passed away and you must navigate the probate process, help could be available to you. A Park Hills probate lawyer could offer invaluable guidance. Schedule a consultation as soon as you are ready to begin settling your loved one’s affairs.

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