When a loved one passes away, their estates must be probated in almost all cases. However, small estates may be an exception. In some states, estates valued below a certain dollar amount can either skip the probate process or be entitled to a shortened probate process. For more about small estates and probate, read on.

What Is a Small Estate?

Each state has different probate rules, so the way a low-value estate is handled will vary. Accompanying the probate filing of the will or estate is an affidavit. A small estate affidavit is a legal document used to transfer the assets of a deceased person to their heirs without going through the formal probate process. It is also known as a "voluntary administration" or "summary administration" affidavit. The affidavit is filed with the probate court in the county where the deceased person lived at the time of their death.

How Are Estates Valued?

Generally, the probate court will require an inventory of all the assets of the deceased person's estate. This inventory will typically include real property, personal property, and any other assets that the deceased person owned at the time of their death.

To determine the value of the assets, the probate court may require appraisals or valuations from experts in various fields, such as real estate appraisers, certified public accountants, or other professionals with relevant expertise. The valuation process may also involve reviewing financial statements, tax returns, and other documents that provide information about the value of the assets.

Small Estate Affidavits

The affidavit must contain information about the deceased person's assets, debts, and heirs. It must also state that the affiant (the person filing the affidavit) is entitled to receive the assets and will distribute them to the heirs. The affiant must sign the affidavit under penalty of perjury. You can compare the role of the affiant to that of an executor who administers an estate. 

Once the affidavit is filed with the probate court, the court will review it to ensure that it meets all legal requirements. If the affidavit is approved, the court will issue an order allowing the assets to be distributed to the heirs. The affiant can then use the order to transfer the assets to the heirs without going through the formal probate process.

Consult with a probate attorney if you are considering using a small estate affidavit to transfer assets after the death of a loved one.