If a person passes away leaving assets without beneficiary designations, there is a court process called Probate. Probate allows for a personal representative to be appointed by the court to access those assets and distribute them to those entitled to them. Who is entitled to those assets will be determined by the deceased individual’s will. If the deceased individual did not have a will, who is entitled to those assets is determined by the intestacy laws of the state where the deceased person resided at the time of their death.
In Missouri, whether the deceased person had a will or not, if the assets are less then $40,000.00 you may be able to avoid the longer, more costly probate process. You may be able to file a small estate affidavit with the court. This process is faster and less expensive then if a full probate is required.
For example, assume your dad had a retirement plan, life insurance policy, bank account, and a car when he passed. If the retirement plan and life insurance policy had beneficiaries, the retirement account and life insurance would not need to go through probate. Assets that have beneficiary designations can avoid probate. However, your dad forgot to add beneficiaries when he got a new car and opened a new bank account. If the car’s value and bank account total less than $40,000.00, you may be able to use a Small Estate Affidavit to access the bank account and car.
In addition, to the Small Estate Affidavit, the court may require additional information as well. If there was a will you will need to provide the court with the original will. You will also need a copy of the death certificate, information about the heirs and those named in the will if there is a will (may need full legal name, address, social security number, date of birth, and date of death if applicable), and proof of values of the assets. For the car, the car title would be needed that would include the vehicle identification number and for the bank, a bank statement showing the account number and balance of account would be needed.
Different states have different laws and even different counties may have different rules and procedures, so it is always a good idea to meet with an attorney. The attorney can help you determine what court procedure is needed in your situation and can help you navigate the process. My husband’s uncle recently reached out to me because his father passed away and he was trying to fill out court documents that he had found online and had a few questions for me. I don’t practice law in the state where his father passed away but just from asking him a few questions, I was able to determine he was trying to fill out forms for the wrong county and also had forms for the wrong court process. I suggested that he contact a Probate attorney in the city where his father had passed. Losing a loved one is stressful enough, an experienced attorney can help you navigate the legal process.