Many states have developed proceedings to help heirs of small estates efficiently collect assets, pay bills and make distributions without the formalities and costs associated with a “formal” probate process.
In general, these procedures are open to estates that consist only of personal property. Personal property includes household goods, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, automobiles, boats and unclaimed funds that have escheated to the state. Real estate cannot be transferred through these procedures.
New York, Massachusetts and Illinois are among the states that have enacted small estate administration laws.
In New York State, a small estate is the estate of a domiciliary or a non-domiciliary resident who dies leaving personal property having a gross value of $30,000 or less (exclusive of exempt property, which can be claimed by certain family members without going through any probate process).
In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, small estate administration is allowed to estates of residents whose assets are valued at up to $25,000 (exclusive of one automobile).
Illinois has a small estate process for residents with tangible personal property valued up to $100,000.
The use of the small estate proceeding can be a valuable tool in cases where the asset information is known and where the validity of the will and the beneficiaries named therein are not in dispute.