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Probate: Small Estate Administration Exception

Under Missouri law, if a decedent’s estate is small enough — that is, under a certain dollar value — it does not always require the grant of Letters of Administration or Letters Testamentary along with a formal court order of Supervised/Unsupervised estate administration.

RSMo 473.097 was created by the Missouri Legislature so that heirs of a small estate had an avenue to more efficiently administer the estate. The specific statutory language says that much of the probate process can be circumvented if:

(1) The value of the entire estate, less liens, debt, and encumbrances, does not exceed forty thousand dollars;

(2) Thirty days have elapsed since the death of the decedent and no application for letters or for administration or for refusal of letters under section 473.090 is pending or has been granted, or if such refusal has been granted and subsequently revoked;

(3) A bond, in an amount not less than the value of the personal property, approved by the judge or clerk of the probate division is filed by the person making the required affidavit conditioned upon the payment of the debts of the decedent, including any debts to the state of Missouri, the expenses of funeral and burial and compliance with future orders of the court in relation to the estate of the decedent; and further conditioned that any part of the property to which the distributee is not entitled will be delivered to the persons entitled to the property under the law. Liability of the sureties on the bonds provided for in this section terminates unless proceedings against them are instituted within two years after the bond is filed; except that, the court may dispense with the filing of a bond if it finds that the same is not necessary;

(4) A fee […], and when required, the publication cost of the notice to creditors are paid or the proof of payment for such publication is provided to the clerk of the probate division.

If the estate is (1) less than $40,000 + (2) formal letters are pending or are refused, (3) an affidavit by the representative saying he/she will be responsible for any debts, and (4) publication to give notice to any and all creditors, then this section is applicable.

Do note that given the small cash value requirement, this section is rarely invoked from my experience. Further, some personal representatives are hesitant to execute an affidavit announcing that they will be on the hook for debts, particularly if they are un-ascertained.

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