There are ways to shorten, abridge, or skip probate entirely, which we always recommend if you can, but those options depend on how big the estate is.
While terms and processes vary by state, these simpler estate settlement options are broadly referred to as submitting a small estate affidavit.
You can only submit these affidavits if the estate is under a certain probate asset value defined by the state. While the difference between probate and non-probate assets can get complicated, most estate assets owned solely by the individual upon death and not passed through a trust or POD account will be counted toward the estate’s value.
What is Considered a Small Estate?
The threshold for small estates changes by state, but the broad range is between $24k and $184,500.*
So if you roughly tally up some of the assets like bank accounts, cars, and investment properties you know someone owned and suspect they are above that threshold in your state, then you will have to go through probate.
For example, if the estate is based in Arkansas, then the ceiling is $100k.* If the person who passed had $40k in bonds, two cars worth $10k each, and a boat worth $60k, then you’re already past the threshold and know you’ll need to initiate probate.
Outside of the small estate affidavit context, federal estate taxes kick in after $12.06 million, so the vast majority of people will fall under that and can be considered “small”.
Tips for Calculating an Estate’s Probate Value
- If the deceased owned a home outright, meaning there is no right of survivorship to a spouse or other joint tenant, then the estate will almost certainly go through probate.
- Reference this list of probate assets and non-probate assets to determine estate value. Do not include anything considered a non-probate asset.
- Anything that the person had sole title to, like boats or vehicles, will be added to the estate value.
- Something being bequeathed in a will does not exclude it from being counted in the estate value.
- Exclude anything left by a trust or life insurance policy.
- Don’t initiate a higher level of probate than you need. You can’t go back down levels, only ascend.
- That being said, most estates have to go through probate, so if you are unsure or pretty dang sure you are past the small estate threshold, then don’t agonize over it.
- When in doubt, consider hiring a probate lawyer or accountant to help.
A bit of advice on small estates
If you’re googling what a small estate is, chances are you’re pretty early on in the probate process. And when you are just starting out in probate, the #1 thing you can do to make things easier is get an idea of the big picture. Here’s where you can do that in 10 minutes or less: What is Probate? Timeline and Exact Steps.