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Discovery of Assets Probate Claims, Estate Litigation

A “discovery of assets” claim is a probate claim in Missouri in which an interested party in an estate may seek to re-title property wrongfully taken from an estate back into the estate’s name. For instance, if you believe that someone wrongfully took cash, personal property or real property from an estate in which you have an interest, you can potentially file a claim in the probate court “clawing it back” to the estate. The claim can also “claw back” assets/property that were wrongfully taken from the decedent while he or she was alive.

The legal basis for a discovery of assets claim is in Section 473.340, RSMo:

Any personal representative, administrator, creditor, beneficiary or other person who claims an interest in property which is claimed to be an asset of an estate or which is claimed should be an asset of an estate may file a verified petition in the probate division of the circuit court in which said estate is pending seeking determination of the title, or right of possession thereto, or both. The petition shall describe the property, if known, shall allege the nature of the interest of the petitioner and that title or possession of the property, or both, are being adversely withheld or claimed.

There are a few important observations. First, most people who have an interest in the estate — i.e., the personal representative/executor, an heir, creditor, etc. — can file the claim. Second, a discovery of assets claim may not only re-title assets in the name of the estate, but also may re-title assets in the name of someone/something other than the estate. As its name implies, a discovery of assets is fundamentally a search for assets belonging to the decedent at his or her death. Estate of Herbert v. Herbert, 152 S.W.3d 340, 345 (Mo. Ct. App. 2004). The purpose of the proceeding is to determine whether assets in questions were owned by the decedent at the time of his/her death and are being wrongfully withheld or retained by the estate.

Discovery of asset claims are quite broad. They are in effect a procedural mechanism allowing an interested party to assert a substantive legal claim as to why an asset should or should not be part of an estate. It includes all assets: real estate, cash, personal property, stocks, bonds, retirement accounts, etc. Given that these usually involve family disputes and significant amounts of cash/assets, these types of cases can be quite taxing and contentious.