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What You Need to Know About Probate in Missouri

Probate in Missouri

We often get questions about probate.  It can be confusing, emotional, and can occur at a very difficult time in life.  So, in this month’s article, we are answering some of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to probate

Probate is the legal process that becomes necessary when:

  • A person dies;
  • That person still has certain asset(s) (anything with an account number, title, or deed)  titled into their name only; AND
  • There is no beneficiary designated on any such asset(s). 

When all of the above is true, an asset essentially becomes “stuck” in the name of a dead person, and that asset must be probated. This is true whether the decedent dies with or without a will. 

If the decedent left no will, assets will be distributed by the Probate Court to those heirs that are identified under Missouri law. If the decedent does leave a Will, the Will typically nominates a Personal Representative (also called “Executor”), as well as identifies beneficiaries who will inherit the probate assets.  Thus, a Will does NOT avoid Probate, but actually directs Probate, by overriding the Missouri Laws that would have applied if there had not been a Will.

What is Probate Court?

Missouri Circuit Courts are divided into 46 judicial districts. Within each court, there is a special Probate Division where all matters relating to probate are heard.

When is Probate Required?

As explained above, probate is required when a person dies, still has property titled into his or her name after death, and there is no beneficiary named on such property. This may include property such as:

  • Bank accounts  or other financial accounts in the decedent’s name only, if there is no co-owner or no beneficiary designation.
  • Real estate owned solely in the name of the decedent, with no beneficiary designated under a Beneficiary Deed.
  • Partial ownership interest in Real estate, if that real estaet is co-owned as tenants in common (with no right of survivorship).
  • Stocks or bonds owned only in the name of the decedent, with no beneficiary named.
  • Any tangible possessions owned solely by the decedent including clothing, jewelry, household furniture, and automobiles.  However, being that such items have no account number, title, or deed, these items will usually only need to be probated if (1) other things are already being probated also, or (2) if there is disagreement regarding such property.

When is Probate Not Required?

Probate is not required unless there is at least one asset  “stuck” in the name of the decedent only, with no beneficiaries being named on that asset. Specifically,, the following are not subject to probate:

  • Property in a trust, since the owner of such property is not the decedent, but the Trustee of the Trust.
  • Real estate owned as joint tenants with the right of survivorship or as husband and wife (legally called “tenancy by the entirety”).
  • Life insurance policies or retirement accounts which have a designated beneficiary or beneficiaries.
  • Bank accounts with a Payable on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD) designation, which go directly to the designated beneficiary.
  • Cars, RVs, boats, motors, trailers, or motor homes with multiple names on the title, or with one owner (the decedent) who named a Transfer on Death (TOD) beneficiary on the title.

What is the Purpose of Probate?

Probate is a legal process of transferring property that is “stuck” titled into the name of a deceased person, into the name of the deceased person’s living heirs (without a will) or beneficiaries (under a Will).  Probate is not designed to be quick, but is designed to be deliberate and comprehensive. Probate is also designed to prevent fraud by freezing the transfer of assets until a judge finds that the Will (if one exists) is valid; to ensure that creditors and named beneficiaries receive notification of the decedent’s death, and that the assets that are part of the estate are identified and appraised in order to determine the current value, and to make sure that the decedent’s heirs or beneficiaries receive the inheritance to which they are entitled.

How Does Probate Work in Missouri?

How probate in Missouri works is described in the Missouri Revised Statutes, Title XXXI, Chapter 473. There are several different ways that probate can work, depending on the size or complexity of the estate, when the decedent died, and several other factors.   There are streamlined processes such as a “small estate”, or various types of “refusals” that are also available in certain circumstances that allow for a quicker, simpler version of probate. If a full estate administration is necessary, the following is a brief overview of the process:

  • The person who desires to be in charge of the probate estate files an application with the Probate Court to act as the “personal representative” (also called “executor”) of the estate. When approved by the Probate Court, that person must comply with certain responsibilities established in the Missouri Probate Code.
  • The personal representative must ensure that notices are either sent, or published in the paper, for the benefit of heirs, beneficiaries, and/or creditors. Additionally, he or she must also publish the opening of probate in a local newspaper in order to be sure all interested parties receive notification, particularly creditors.
  • The personal representative must provide the court an inventory and appraisal of all property contained in the probate estate.
  • The personal representative must make sure the property is kept safe.
  • When the court closes probate, the personal representative is responsible for distributing the property.
  • The personal representative must file an accounting with the court at least annually, and at the closing of the estate, verifying that debts and taxes have been paid and property has been appropriately distributed.

How Long Does Probate Take?

A person interested in serving as personal representative must first research attorneys, hire one, and that attorney would assist their client in getting appointed as personal representative, which can take some time.  Once appointed, the personal representative must file an inventory and appraisement detailing what the probate assets are, and then publish notice in the paper. Under Missouri law, creditors have six months from the date of publication to file a claim against the estate. After the notice period is over, if all estate matters are otherwise concluded, the probate estate can be closed within about 60 days thereafter.  Therefore, the full probate process takes longer than six months, but can often take a year or more. If creditors file a claim, real estate does not sell quickly, or there are any disputes among heirs or beneficiaries, the process can take longer.

How to Avoid Probate in Missouri?

There are legal ways people can keep assets out of probate, if they take advantage of such methods while they are still alive. Some ways include creating:

  • A revocable trust.
  • An irrevocable trust.
  • Beneficiary deeds for real estate.
  • Transfer on Death (TOD) designations for vehicles or financial accounts.
  • Payable on Death (POD) designations for bank or financial accounts.
  • Beneficiary bill of sale (also called beneficiary transfer instrument) for tangible personal property.
  • Certain types of Joint titling of property, such as joint tenants with rights of survivorship or tenancy by the entirety.

These concerns can become quite complicated, but they do not have to be.  Our attorneys at the Piatchek Law Firm, LLC in Springfield, Missouri are committed to helping our clients who want to save their beneficiaries from the time, stress, and hassle of probate.  Whether you are an heir or beneficiary of someone who has recently died, or someone who wants to know more about avoiding probate, please contact us as soon as possible to get started.




  • Avatar für Jessica Daulton

    Jessica Daulton

    July 10, 2022 - 12:03 am

    My father passed in 2019 In Missouri where he resided. I live in Texas and I drove up there to bury and take care of his things. I got sick with bacterial meningitis and couldn’t do anything. I had him cremated and the landlord took everything. my father had over 50 thousand dollars alone in tools, I had taken pictures. Anyways is it too late to do something. I feel like I got screwed and my father got screwed.. he’d be pissed. I’m the oldest surviving child he wasn’t married oh and he just had a 50 hundred thousand settlement. He has it in cash in his safe which was also empty he had vehicles..and I’m not sure what else can someone help.

  • Avatar für Justin Lee Heller

    Justin Lee Heller

    July 29, 2022 - 4:51 pm

    Hello, I have a question.

    Was hoping you could give some light on it.
    My mom passed and there wasn’t a will.
    I did have power if attorney and look after her while she was ill. She wanted 50/50 to my brother and I.
    I went to we buy ugly houses to help seeing it fixed and get a deed back.
    Now it’s in probate only because my brother and I owe. His is 90k much larger than what the house is selling for.
    Mine past owes, would fit under the 10k
    Which is what the house is selling for.
    My question is, would they keep us under probate, for that low of a buy and if so how long generally.
    Another question is, would there be an option for them to back out over this and if they do could I just use the beneficiary quick claim deed and put off paying those
    Little longer when financially able to

  • Avatar für Sheldon e blanks

    Sheldon e blanks

    March 30, 2023 - 4:33 pm

    Father passed in July stepmom gave executer to her stepbrother but the will is to me and my stepmoms God daughter but the will was not filed

    • Avatar für Joe Piatchek

      Joe Piatchek

      March 31, 2023 - 8:38 am

      Hello, this is Joe, you are welcome to call me at 417-882-5858, Extension 3030. Happy to speak with you. Thanks!

  • Avatar für Lisa Salyer

    Lisa Salyer

    April 26, 2023 - 8:27 am

    Why must my siblings’ spouse sign agreements of probate?

    • Avatar für Joe Piatchek

      Joe Piatchek

      April 26, 2023 - 11:57 am

      Lisa: I am not sure what you are referring to, depends on what they are signing. You are welcome to call me at 417-882-5858, Ext. 3030. Thanks, Joe

  • Avatar für Connie Bechtel

    Connie Bechtel

    May 29, 2023 - 1:29 pm

    My father lived in Missouri had a will and states that house be sold and divided among the children. We had a estate representative since we live in PA and NV. The representative did things without consulting ALL of us and the house sold through court again without All in agreement of the sale. Is this allowed or must everyone be in agreement? I know it was sold for less than 70% of the value of the home.

    • Avatar für Joe Piatchek

      Joe Piatchek

      June 21, 2023 - 3:46 pm

      The sale of real estate does not necessarily take everyone’s agreement. If this is a MO case, I can lookup records. Call me if you would like to talk about this. Thanks, Joe

  • Avatar für Gary House

    Gary House

    June 21, 2023 - 12:27 am

    My girlfriends dad passed 4years ago his wife survived for 2 more years when she passed everything left in estate was to be split 3 ways my girl her sister and brother the 2 trustee are my girlfriends oldest son and the late wife son the father owned 51 percent of fiber optic co. Brother bought out for 1.48. Mill. Owned rock quarry bringing 60 to 80 thousands a year trustee are selling quarry and 120 acres for 600 thousands way to cheap girlfriend has only got 20 thousands in 4 years should we put this in probate to stop them from stealing everything

    • Avatar für Joe Piatchek

      Joe Piatchek

      June 21, 2023 - 3:47 pm

      Gary, sounds like there is a lot at stake. Rather than trying to reply or converse here, why don’t you call me sometime? Joe 417-882-5858 Ext 3030. Thanks.

  • Avatar für Rod Skillman

    Rod Skillman

    September 11, 2023 - 3:08 pm

    My neice is looking to purchase a house that has been left to siblings. Can she purchase the home now or does she have to wait for the probate period to end?

    • Avatar für Joe Piatchek

      Joe Piatchek

      September 11, 2023 - 3:14 pm

      Rod: The attorney who is handling the probate case would have to advise the Personal Representative of the Estate of such matters. That being said, generally if all of the heirs agree, something can usually be done inside the probate case. Alternatively, it may be easier to wait until the case is done, and then have all of the heirs agree to convey it to the proposed purchaser. I would have to know a lot more to be able to give you a good answer.

  • Avatar für Sherry batye

    Sherry batye

    December 16, 2023 - 12:06 am

    Hi, I’m one of the heirs of my cousins estate in Oregon county Mo.
    The attorney hired by the executor doesn’t return calls. The executor doesn’t either. It’s been in probate almost 3 years and no information is shared with us. There is something shady about both of them.
    What are our rights? How can we find out what’s going on. Can I call you? Or someone? The estate is approximately $500,000.
    Isn’t the executor supposed to be keeping us apprised? None of the heirs have heard from her even once!

    • Avatar für Joe Piatchek

      Joe Piatchek

      December 18, 2023 - 5:23 pm


      The Personal Representative is supposed to file annual reports with the Court, and keep the beneficiaries informed. If the PR, nor the Attorney for the PR, are returning your call, yes, you probably need to get an attorney. Yes, I can look up information online and tell you some of what is going on with the case.

      If you want to set up a paid consultation with me, let me know. We could spend an hour, I could answer your questions, and look up the case and tell you what I am seeing, if you are interested. Thanks,

  • Avatar für Kirsten


    February 8, 2024 - 2:58 pm

    My mother in law passed away and only owned a car with appx 7,000.00. Is there a way to avoid probate in Missouri with such a small estate? We have a buyer for her vehicle now and a title in her name only. She was single and she has 2 sons both agreeing to sell. Is there a way?

    • Avatar für Joe Piatchek

      Joe Piatchek

      May 30, 2024 - 2:37 pm

      Thank you for your comment. We would be happy to speak to you to discuss your options but would need more information about your legal matter. Please give us a call at (417)-882-5858.

  • Avatar für Darren Wertz

    Darren Wertz

    May 31, 2024 - 2:30 pm

    I live on the west coast. My sister and her husband were both found dead in their Missouri home. I was notified days later by my cousin. I’ve been having a time finding out what is going on.
    It seems there was an autopsy and sheriffs found some documents in the house with my cousin listed as next of kin- which is why I had to find out thru him.
    What can I as actual next of kin have access to?
    The documents? The autopsy? Where the bodies are?

    • Avatar für Joe Piatchek

      Joe Piatchek

      May 31, 2024 - 4:59 pm


      Sorry to hear this news. There are a lot of questions unanswered here, and/or some assumptions built in here… any sort of “documents” would not likely list a “next of kin” in most cases. If someone had estate planning documents, there would usually be executors, personal representatives, trustees, attorneys-in-fact under power of attorney documents… so it is difficult to say what is exactly going on here. If you want to talk it over sometime, feel free to give me a call. Not really suitable to try to discuss over email, there are a lot of variables involved here.



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