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Let Our Springfield Probate Lawyers Help Manage Your Missouri Estate

If you have recently lost a loved one in Missouri, the process of administering his or her estate will, in many cases, involve some element of probate. Probate is the formal legal process for executing the terms of a decedent’s will or determining what to do with the decedent’s estate if he or she did not leave a will. Even if your loved one established a trust or used other types of non-probate transfers in his or her estate plan, it may still be necessary to resolve certain matters through the probate court. While some people choose to handle probate on their own, it is generally best to work with knowledgeable Springfield probate lawyers who can guide you through the process if, for some reason, you are unable to avoid the probate process altogether.

What is Probate?

After paying any valid creditor claims and other estate expenses, the personal representative must then make final distribution of estate assets to the decedent’s devisees or heirs.This process involves courts, attorneys, a lot of time, and (inevitably) expenses. Although in rare cases (and on movies and TV shows), there are major conflicts and contesting parties during probate, this isn’t common. Most of the time, probate only involves a lot of clerical work, forms, and filing deadlines.

What You Need to Know About Probate and Probate Administration in Missouri

  1. Whether or not you have a will, probate will apply. Some people mistakenly believe that probate is only a concern if you have a will. In fact, if you don’t have a will, your estate will still go through probate and your state’s laws will decide who gets what. If you have a will, on the other hand, you will be able to specify who receives your assets and how your estate is distributed.
  2. Probate may not apply to all of your estate. The probate process involves only the assets in your “probate estate.” You may also have “non-probate property,” which refers to any assets you possess that will automatically be transferred to someone else when you pass away. For example, assets that you own jointly with another person (or people), assets held in a trust, and assets for which you’ve named a beneficiary are non-probate property.
  3. You can devise your estate plan to avoid probate. Probate can be time-consuming, exhausting, very public, and a burden on your family. If you want to avoid these annoyances, you can sidestep probate entirely by working with an estate planning attorney. You may need to create a living trust, establish joint ownership of property, or build pay-on-death bank and retirement accounts, but these methods are worth exploring to avoid the probate process.

5 Basic Steps in the Probate Process

While the time, cost and complexity of administering probate will depend on various factors related to the decedent’s estate (as well as any disputes among the decedent’s family members), the probate process can be boiled down to five basic steps:

1. Opening the Estate

The first step is referred to as “opening the estate,” which essentially means initiating probate proceedings by submitting a petition with the appropriate court. Although a personal representative has not yet been formally appointed at this stage, if the decedent’s will names a personal representative or if the heirs are in agreement regarding who the personal representative should be, then this individual will typically open the estate with the assistance of our Springfield probate lawyers at LifeGen Law Group.

2. Providing Notice to Creditors

Once the estate has been opened, the personal representative’s next major step is to provide notice to the estate’s creditors. If the decedent had any debts at the time of his or her death (such as a mortgage, car loan or credit card balance), then these debts generally remain obligations of the estate. However, creditors cannot seek payment indefinitely, and providing legally-compliant notice starts the clock for creditors to assert claims against the estate.

3. PAYING CREDITORS, PREPARING AND FILING TAX RETURNS

Once the notice process is over, the personal representative’s next major step is to pay any valid creditor claims. Creditors that timely submit claims are entitled to payment before estate assets are distributed to devisees and heirs, unless such claims are dismissed by the court. Additionally, prior to any distributions, the deceased individual’s estate must be finalized by filing his or her final personal tax returns, as well as any applicable estate tax returns.

4. Distributing Assets to Devisees and Heirs with the Help of Our Springfield Probate Lawyers

After paying the estate’s creditors, the personal representative must then ask the court for permission to distribute the estate’s remaining assets to the decedent’s devisees and heirs. If the decedent left a will with clear instructions, then this could be a fairly straightforward process. On the other hand, if there are ambiguities in the will, then the personal representative may have various issues to resolve prior to distributing assets from the estate. The assistance of an attorney is the best way to simplify the process.

5. Close the Estate

Finally, once the personal representative has fully discharged his or her duties, then the estate can be “closed.” This is the end of the probate process.

Why Should I Try to Avoid Probate?

Avoiding probate is advisable for several reasons. First, you’ll minimize the burden you place on your family and friends after your death. Second, in doing so, you will help your beneficiaries save time and money. If your assets go through probate, after all, your estate property will be tied up for months and possibly years, leaving your beneficiaries waiting and waiting . . . Third, avoiding probate reduces legal fees and court costs associated with the administration process, leaving more of your estate in the hands of your beneficiaries.Fourth, probate is a matter of public record. If you would prefer to keep your estate’s administration private, avoiding probate is the way to go.

Of course, every estate is different. For some, probate won’t take much time and will involve only modest costs. If you aren’t sure whether or not it will be worth it for you to avoid probate, discuss your estate plan with a knowledgable probate attorney.

How Can Springfield Probate Lawyers Help Me Avoid Probate?

Minimizing the complexities and costs of probate is possible, and you could even avoid probate entirely by establishing a trust, jointly owning property, or ensuring all assets have the proper beneficiary designations. The key is working with an attorney who is experienced in estate planning and can help you confront all of the legal and financial complexities involved.

Contact the Springfield Probate Lawyers at LifeGen Law Group, Your Local Law Firm, Today

If you live in southwest Missouri, contact the attorneys at LifeGen Law Group for all of your estate planning and elder law needs. We can help you build a new estate plan or update your current estate plan, and we would be happy to help you reduce or eliminate the probate that will occur after your death. Give us a call at 417-823-9898 to learn more, or click here to schedule a free consultation at our Springfield office. We look forward to hearing from you!