What is a small estate affidavit?
When mourning the loss of a loved one, the last thing anyone wants is a lengthy, costly court procedure to handle the estate they’ve left behind.
This process, called probate, can take months or even years, depending on the circumstances, and all that time, legal fees are racking up.
This is especially bad if the estate being inherited isn’t worth much more than the legal costs in the first place.
Disputes among family members or other potential heirs over the distribution of assets can complicate matters further.
These arguments can lead to ugly court battles, which can be emotionally and financially draining for everyone involved.
A small estate affidavit can be a valuable tool for simplifying the probate process and reducing the associated costs and delays.
Let’s take a closer look at small estate affidavits, how they work, and how you can get one.
What is a small estate affidavit?
When someone passes away, their assets must be distributed to their heirs or beneficiaries.
If the deceased had a will, the executor of the will is responsible for distributing those assets accordingly.
If not, they are distributed according to state law.
Both scenarios can be complicated and time-consuming, so many people choose to use estate affidavits instead.
If the estate is worth $150,000 or less, many states accept a signed affidavit to manage these quickly.
But what does signing an affidavit mean? The process sees you make a sworn statement declaring that everything detailed within the document is, as far as you know, true.
In a small estate affidavit, you’re detailing everything important about the estate and swearing to the court that this is correct.
On this basis, the court will directly transfer the assets from a deceased’s estate to their beneficiaries without the need to go to probate court.
What is the purpose of a small estate affidavit?
The primary purpose of a small estate affidavit is to bypass probate court entirely and make the transfer of property faster and less expensive.
This is for the benefit of the deceased’s heirs and the courts.
If the estate is small, it’s less likely to be worth going through the whole probate process to divide it up.
Once the small estate affidavit is filed and approved, the heirs can use it to access the assets of the estate. That includes property, vehicles, and bank accounts belonging to the deceased.
Getting all of this transferred quickly can be a big help with all of the paperwork the deceased’s family might be saddled with.
How long does a small estate affidavit take?
Filing a notarized small estate affidavit could take weeks to months, depending on your state.
Once you’ve sent the affidavit and necessary documents, the state will have to review it and might request additional information. Incorrect details or disputes between the heirs might cause delays in this process.
How do I get a small estate affidavit?
You can get a small estate affidavit by following a few simple steps.
- Visit the probate court in the county where the deceased lived.
- Get a small estate affidavit form and instructions from the clerk’s office.
- Fill in the affidavit with the deceased’s information, including their assets and liabilities.
- File the affidavit with the court and pay the fee.
- If approved, the court will issue an order to distribute the assets to the rightful heirs.
Does a small estate affidavit need to be filed with the court?
Yes, a small estate affidavit needs to be filed with a court.
For one, this assures that the deceased’s assets are distributed in accordance with state law.
Filing with the court also creates a paper trail that would be useful if complications arose, like disputes between the heirs or a claim from creditors.
Can an affidavit be used as evidence? Yes. One of the purposes of these documents is to get a signed declaration that something is true.
However, one disadvantage of the small estate affidavit is that they don’t provide the same levels of protection as a full probate process.
If, for example, the deceased had unpaid debts, creditors might come forward with a legitimate claim to some property.
How to file and fill out a small estate affidavit form
Filling out and filing a small estate affidavit form is pretty straightforward:
1. Get the small estate affidavit form from your state’s probate court or download it from their website. (See our affidavit form templates for examples of what you’re looking for.)
2. Collect this information: Name of deceased, date of death, assets, and any debts.
3. Fill in the form with information including:
- All heirs of the estate
- Your name and address
- Your relationship to the deceased
- Names of all spouses and the dates of marriage, divorce, and death
- Names of all children and the dates of their marriage, divorce, and death
- Names of all grandchildren and the dates of their marriage, divorce, and death
- Name of all brothers and sisters and the dates of their marriage, divorce, and death
4. After you fill out the form, get your signature notarized or witnessed by a court clerk. In some states, you might need additional witnesses to sign as well.
5. Submit the completed and signed form to the probate court or file online, along with any supporting documents requested by your state.
The court will review the form and inform you of any missing information or documentation.
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