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Probate Basics: A Quick Q&A

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

If you read that headline and thought “What the heck is probate?” . . . perhaps you should keep reading.

Probate is an important part of how our system in the United States handles property, especially after someone passes away. Almost all of us will have to deal with this at some point during our adult lives, so it's helpful to have some insight into the whole shebang.

So settle in, grab your beverage of choice, and read on, my friends.

Here are the basics: First, there is a probate court. That court hears probate cases. Sounds easy enough so far.

But wait. . . what is a probate case?

Basically, this is when a judge is supervising who is in charge of a person or property and how that person or property is managed.


Well, it can be a few different things:

  • When a guardian or conservator needs to be appointed for either a minor child or for an incapacitated adult

  • When someone dies without a will (this is called “dying intestate”)

  • When someone dies with a will

(Today I’m specifically talking about probate cases which happen after someone has died.)

What happens during probate?

Through this proceeding, the judge ensures that any creditors claims, taxes, or other estate expenses are paid, and then, that any remaining property is distributed according to the will or according to Missouri state law.

For small estates (less than $40,000 in Missouri), you can take a shortcut through the probate process (sometimes just 30 days!), but if it’s more than that--or if young children are involved--your estate is headed to probate court. Your beneficiaries won’t be able to gain title (ownership) to your property until they do.

Does it matter which probate court handles the estate?

Yes, actually. It usually takes place in the county where the deceased person lived. That said, if that person also owned property in another state (like a vacation home or rental property), then it may be necessary to file a separate probate proceeding in that state.

How long does it take?

Well, it's not fast. But, as with most things in the law, it depends.

This will vary depending on which county you’re in, the size of the estate, and everyone's cooperation. At a minimum, probate takes a bit more than 6 months (this is how long creditors have to make a claim). It is not uncommon for the probate process to take a year or more, especially if there is disagreement between beneficiaries or issues with creditors.

How much does it cost?

Missouri law specifies the minimum fees that are paid to the personal representative and attorney; this is based on a percentage of the value of the estate assets. Actual fees can be significantly more.

There are also fees such as court costs or the services of professionals such as an accountant, a real estate agent, or other advisors.

All of these fees are taken out of the estate, so they’ll reduce the amount that your beneficiaries will receive.

Whew! That was a lot of information!

But wait . . . there’s more! Stay tuned, and I’ll share more information about probate, such as:

  • What property goes through probate

  • When probate is a good idea or a not-so-good idea, and

  • How you can decide what’s best for you.

If you have more questions, or want to know about how probate laws and procedures would apply in your situation, Emerald Law can help. I help families make the right decision for their circumstances and goals--and if that involves avoiding probate as much as possible, I'll help with that too.

Send me a message or schedule a free, 15-minute consultation. You don’t even need to leave your house to meet me because it’s all virtual.

I can’t wait to hear from you!


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