When an individual dies with a very modest estate, there is a simplified procedure that permits that deceased person’s personal representative, family or heirs to collect his or her assets without the complexity, time and expense of a formal probate proceeding. In Missouri, the procedure is known as a Small Estate Affidavit, and this procedure is available when a decedent’s assets, net of liens, debts and encumbrances, is $40,000 or less. R.S.Mo. Section 473.097.
In order to take advantage of the Small Estate Affidavit procedure, an individual, typically the person named as personal representative in the decedent’s will, if any, must file an appropriate Small Estate Affidavit with the probate court in the county where the decedent was a resident. The probate division of the circuit court reviews the document, and, once approved, enters a certified order.
Once the order is entered by the Court, the person signing the Small Estate Affidavit may use the certified court order to collect the property listed therein. The property is then used to pay any appropriate debts, and the balance of the property remaining is distributed either in accordance with the decedent’s Last Will and Testament or to his or her heirs if there was no Last Will and Testament.
When the assets are greater than $15,000 but less than $40,000, the estate must publish notice to creditors. Additionally, values of any property must be determined prior to filing the Small Estate Affidavit, so appraisals of property may be necessary depending upon the type and nature of the property. The court filing fees are typically modest for a Small Estate Affidavit, but most people will find that having an attorney assist with the process is necessary so that all the requirements are properly met.