Are there simpler probate procedures for smaller estates?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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That depends on the laws of your state. The laws on probate—the procedures you have to go through to transfer property belonging to a decedent to his or her heirs or beneficiaries—are different in every state. Many states have what are known as summary procedures for what they consider small estates, but the concept of what is small ranges from an estate worth $5,000 to one worth $100,000. So, you need to find out if your state has a summary procedure and if your relative’s estate qualifies.

Make sure you know if the size of the estate that qualifies for a summary procedure is based on the gross estate (fair market value of all property at the time of death) or the net estate (the value of the estate after all mortgages, debts, and so on have been paid). For example, if the decedent left a house with a market value of $500,000, but only had $60,000 in equity, the estate may not qualify for a summary procedure as an estate under $100,000, because the gross estate is $500,000, even though the deceased’s interest was less than $100,000. States also have different rules about which property is counted in calculating the value of the estate for purposes of using a summary procedure.

Summary probate procedures are usually less complicated, so they are faster and less costly than more formal procedures. The summary procedures usually mean less rigorous reporting to the probate court, and in some states, the probate court does not supervise the probate of a small estate at all after the initial filing. This is often a good thing, because it allows people to process small estates quickly and cheaply. It can be a disadvantage in some circumstances, though, if complications arise. For example, if creditors make claims against the estate that might not be valid, it might be better to go through a regular probate process and take advantage of the court’s supervision. If there is any doubt, get advice from a probate attorney in your state before deciding which procedure to use.

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