After the death of a loved one, you have many issues to deal with, and a Cape Girardeau probate attorney can help lighten your burdens. Kelvin Birk has assisted many families through this difficult period. He takes the time to listen to clients, answers their questions, and gets the process moving in the right direction.
Here is an overview of the steps in the probate process. After a person dies, debts and taxes must be paid. When those items are paid, their assets can then be transferred to the next of kin, or beneficiaries in their will. In most cases, these actions that pay bills and distribute assets go through the probate system. However, there are exceptions to the full probate process for some estates. If a decedent’s estate (which includes all the deceased’s assets and debts) has a value of less than $40,000 after debts are paid, a small estate certificate may be obtained. In this case, the estate can be wrapped up without going through the full probate process.
A Probate Attorney Can Get You Through the Process
There are many steps to the probate process and sometimes, it can be complex. When you have help from an experienced lawyer, you don’t have to worry about what you should or should not do. Our probate attorney at Birk Law Firm can help you every step of the way. Typically, the process begins with determining if there is a will. If the deceased had a will, it needs to be found. It should be filed with the probate division of the county court where the person lived.
The will should name an executor, called a Personal Representative in Missouri, which is the person in charge of the estate. The executor will receive a certificate from the court that shows they have the legal power to distribute the estate’s assets. This certificate from the court is called a “letter testamentary.” As the estate’s personal representative (PR) the executor can make decisions and take actions concerning the estate.
The personal representative is responsible for organizing the estate’s assets and liabilities. Once these are identified, the PR will file an inventory with the court. In addition, a public notice to creditors needs to be published, generally in a local newspaper. If a creditor asks for payment, the PR can pay it or decide payment is not necessary. To cover any debts, the estate’s cash could be used. Assets from the estate can also be sold to pay debts. After all debts are considered, if property is left over, it will be transferred to the beneficiaries (those named as getting assets) in the will.
How a Well Written Will Can Make Probate Much Easier
A properly drafted and executed will created by an estate attorney can be a big help. With a strong will, the probate process could be simpler, less expensive, less time consuming, and faster. There are a few legal terms related to wills that are helpful to understand. A “testator” is the person for whom a will is written. “Intestate” means lacking a will. If someone dies and they did not leave a will behind, they will have “died intestate.”
A well written will captures the testator’s intentions accurately and can prevent an estate from going to court. Costly litigation may be avoided if the person writing the will (or for whom the will is written by a legal representative) does three things:
- Clearly states his or her wishes
- Stays away from actions or limits that could be legally challenged
- Is fully competent when executing the will
The process is similar if there is no will and the person died intestate. In this case, because there is no will naming an executor, instead the court names an administrator. That person becomes the estate’s personal representative. Much like the steps an executor takes, the court appointed administrator inventories assets, and pays bills. The PR also distributes estate property to the next of kin, as permitted by Missouri law.
This estate administration process carried out by the court appointed administrator (the PR) can be supervised or independent. The court decides which method will be used, and each has unique elements.
- Supervised estate administration: The court approves most PR actions. This is the more common option. This option provides more protections for the PR in case there are disagreements among heirs or beneficiaries, or if the will or assets are unclear or controversial in some way.
- Independent estate administration: This method is faster, simpler, and less expensive. The PR handles most issues without court permission. Then, he or she reports to the court after the process is complete. When the PR operates independently, all heirs must consent to this method.
A Probate Lawyer May Keep You and the Estate Out of Trouble
If you’re the PR, for most matters you need to hire a probate attorney. You should retain a probate lawyer to protect yourself and the estate. Paying bills and distributing funds for an estate is not handled like a household. You can’t spend money and pay for things as you please. There are very strict rules on what a PR can and cannot do. Violating those rules could cause you major problems.
An experienced probate attorney knows the potential legal minefield. Depending on the estate, many issues could arise. Heirs (the family members) and beneficiaries can accuse you of wrongdoing. If a judge agrees with them, you can be held financially responsible. For this reason, you need to keep yourself safe by securing skilled legal support. A probate lawyer can represent the estate in case there are legal disputes involving family members or creditors.
Among the disputes during probate that could happen are:
- An heir can challenge a will’s validity. If they’re successful, the will may be disregarded. Assets would be divided as if it never existed.
- There may be many wills. And different family members may favor different ones. Which one is accepted could be the subject of a legal fight.
- The PR may decide the estate is not required to pay a bill that is submitted. The creditor may challenge that decision in hopes of securing payment.
Work with a Probate Attorney in Cape Girardeau You Can Trust
When you hire a legal professional to help with handling probate, you should choose someone with experience. Kelvin Birk has seen it all. He understands the complexities and conflicts that can arise as estate’s debts are paid and the assets are distributed. You also need a financial mind in your corner. Not only is Kelvin Birk a probate attorney, his is also a certified public accountant. He has more than 30 years of experience in accounting and business consulting and more than 20 years of experience representing clients in numerous legal matters.
An Experienced Negotiator for Your Probate Needs
Few probate law disputes are decided in court. Usually differences are worked out through negotiation. You can achieve that with the help of a probate attorney in Cape Girardeau. This avoids the cost in time, money, and energy that comes with litigation. When a probated estate goes to court, an attorney represents the estate. This means the legal bills associated with representation in court are paid by the estate. In the end, going to court means there are less assets left for heirs and beneficiaries.
Whatever your probate situation, whether you need help with a smaller estate or you’re dealing with a large, complex estate with many parties arguing about what should happen next, your Cape Girardeau probate lawyer at Birk Law Firm can counsel and represent you. Call our office today at 573-332-8585.
ALL YOUR LEGAL NEEDS
Why Choose Birk Law?
Birk Law Firm is a small firm by choice that is big on client services. Attorney Kelvin Birk and his team are responsive to their clients’ needs. When we sign on as your law firm, you can count on us for strong legal counsel, from negotiations to settlement to trial.
Our clients benefit from the intertwining of Kelvin Birk’s legal and CPA background and experience. We provide well-rounded advice to solve both legal and financial issues and to come up with creative solutions. We use modern technology to deliver legal services in a more efficient and client-focused manner than was previously possible.
We provide personalized and compassionate service. We believe that each client’s matter is the most important matter in the world to them, and we strive to treat it that way.