Small estate laws were passed with the objective of helping heirs secure property of the decedent without having to go through probate, or with diminished probate proceedings, if they comply with specific conditions. The administration of small estates can be less time-consuming and expensive. Small estate laws can also be applicable if the decedent had transferred most property to a trust with some property remaining. Such procedures can usually be used whether or not the decedent left a will.
There are generally two kinds of small estate procedures, one of which is the small estate affidavit. Some states permit the spouse and/or heirs of the decedent to execute the affidavit, at which point they would take the affidavit to the bank or other entity holding the property. Other states mandate that they file the affidavit with the court.
If the decedent did not leave a great deal of valuable property, then formal probate proceedings may not be required. There are two choices, one of which is regarding real estate, while the other concerns personal property. If the decedent left personal property valued at $50,000 or less, and the surviving spouse or domestic partner has a right to all of the assets without probate, a simple affidavit procedure is available.
The principal requirement is that the assets of the estate be valued below a certain amount. In Virginia, in cases where the value of the estate is less than $50,000, a beneficiary may present a small estate affidavit to secure any debts owed to the deceased. This must occur 60 days following the death of the decedent.
The other small estate procedure is summary administration, which is used when the value of the estate is between $10,000 and $20,000.