When someone dies, their estate and possessions aren't just given to their next of kin nor is their will immediately executed in Missouri. The state's probate court system enforces regulations and procedures for administering a will or in the absence of a will (which is termed dying intestate), dividing the estate among heirs and creditors.
Appying for Letters of Testamentary
The first step when adjudicating a deceased person's estate is to apply for letters of testamentary on the deceased's estate. Administrators of the estate must file an application for letters with the court disclosing the name, address and cause and date of the death of the deceased. An official death certificate must be included. Other information, such as a list of heirs and executors, value of the estate and, if the person died testate, the details of a will (Missouri Code §473.017).
Granting and Publishing Letters
After application for letters of testamentary are received, the clerk of the court will issue letters of testamentary which announce plans to divide the deceased's estate. These letters must be published in a newspaper once a week for four consecutive weeks, though the deceased's creditors need not be notified individually about letters of testamentary (§473.023 and §473.033).
Delivering Will to Court
After publication of notice, the deceased's will must be presented to the court. If a person is in possession of the will and refuses to produce it, the court may order him to deliver it to the courthouse. A judge will then issue a certificate of probate, allowing the estate to be divided as per law or the will's specifications (§473.043 and §473.044).
Once notices have been filed, a judge and the executor of the will must sort claims from the deceased's debtors to be paid before execution of the will. If necessary, interests of the will may be sold off to help cover costs of claims against the estate (§473.320).
Once claims against the estate are managed, the will is executed by a judge. If no will is present, intestate estates are divided among heirs according to Missouri specifications on intestate estates.