Ask Nancy – Small Estate Proceeding

Small Estate Proceeding

by Maria Johnson, Esq. and Nancy Burner, Esq.

Question: My father died without a will leaving only a checking account in his sole name with a balance of $15,000. My brother and I are his only heirs. I have heard that there is a proceeding in the Surrogate’s Court to handle small estates. Can you tell me about it?
Answer: It is important to note that not all estates require a full probate or administration proceeding. The small estate also known as a voluntary administration proceeding is a simplified Surrogate’s Court procedure available if the decedent passed away after January 1, 2009 and had $30,000 or less in personal property. The voluntary administration proceeding cannot be used if the decedent died owning real property held solely in his/her name. If the decedent conveyed most of his/her property to a trust but there remains some property titled outside of the trust, the voluntary administration proceeding may also be available to collect those assets. The proceeding is available if the decedent died with or without a will.
The person who files the “Affidavit of Voluntary Administration” and asks to be appointed as voluntary administrator is either the nominated executor in the decedent’s will or the closest living relative if the decedent died without a will. The person filing the affidavit is asking the court to let them collect the assets of the decedent, pay any debts and distribute the property to people who have a legal right to inherit either under the will or under the laws of intestacy if the decedent passed away without a will.
The voluntary administration proceeding is less complex then a full probate or administration proceeding because consent does not have to be given by the distributees of the decedent’s estate. This can avoid the expense of a long and drawn out will contest proceeding or litigation over the appointment of a fiduciary in a full probate or administration proceeding.
While the voluntary administration proceeding is simple, it is always a good idea to consult with an experienced trust and estate’s attorney to ensure that it is the best way to proceed.

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