In order to obtain the authority to act on behalf of the decedent, if there is a will, the person named in the will as the personal representative, must file a petition with the probate court asking the court to issue letters testamentary. If the court admits the will and issues letters testamentary to the personal representative, then he or she will be authorized to administer the estate of the decedent. Letters testamentary are usually granted to the person named in the will unless the court has found the person to be incompetent, unsuitable or improper, or if the person is disqualified or fails to apply for letters. 473.110 RSMO.
If a person dies without a will or intestate, an individual must petition the court for the authority to act on behalf of the decedent by filing a request for letters of administration. Section 473.110 RSMO. The individual named to act on behalf of an intestate estate is known as an administrator. Section 473.110 RSMO sets forth the individuals who may apply for letters of administration. The Statute provides that letters of administration may be granted to the husband or wife, or to one or more of those individuals who are entitled to the distribution of the estate, who the court believes will best manage and preserve the estate. The individuals who will be entitled to the distribution of the decedent’s estate are call heirs. The heirs of a decreased person are determined by statute as set forth in Section 474.010 RSMO.
There are time limits as to when an individual may apply for letters. There are also certain items required by Section 473.017 RSMO to be included in the application for letters testamentary or of administration. One of the items required to be included in the application is whether the application is for Supervised or Independent Administration (hyperlink). Generally, a person applying to be the Personal Representative must post a bond to insure they faithfully carry out their duties unless the bond has been waived in the will or by the court. Having to post a bond increases not only the expense of administering an estate, but also the requirements regarding who may serve as the legal representative of the Estate.