51 Flavors: A Survey of Small Estate Procedures Across the Country


Properly navigating a probate administration in any one state can be challenging enough, but often the client’s estate—and the attorney’s practice—is not so neatly confined within one state’s boundaries. Fortunately, for certain types of assets and smaller estates, clients can avoid full probate proceedings and, in some states, any court involvement whatsoever. This article and the accompanying chart of state-by-state options seek to provide a starting point for attorneys who find their clients’ assets in unfamiliar territory.

The 50 states plus the District of Columbia generally implement one or both of two procedures for handling and disposing of assets in small estates: (1) a summary administrative procedure, whereby the personal representative must receive court approval to gather and distribute assets (“Summary Administration”); and (2) an independent affidavit procedure, whereby an appropriate person can prepare an affidavit to directly collect and distribute money or property owned by the decedent (“Affidavit Procedure”). In the simplest terms, Summary Administration requires court formalities before collecting assets, but the Affidavit Procedure requires no court action, that is, it is a self-executing affidavit. Another major point of distinction between the states is the maximum dollar amount, or “cap,” under which an estate can qualify for a small estate procedure. Although these major distinctions are apparent, each state’s experimentations have produced numerous fine distinctions—the 51 flavors of small estate administration.

Originally Published in Probate & Property, Vol 28, Number 4, by the American Bar Association - July/August 2014

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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