What Is the Difference between Small Estates and all Other Estates?

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If you are responsible for distributing someone’s property after they die, it is important to understand the kind of estate you need to distribute. If you are dealing with a small estate, you may be able to avoid traditional probate proceedings. There are different ways an estate can be administered depending on the value of the estate. An estate valued under a certain amount is defined by law as a small estate. Most small estates can be distributed with a simpler process. Any estate that is over that value is usually distributed with a traditional probate process.  

Small Estates

Whether an estate is small depends on how much it is worth. The limit for a small estate can change each year. Use the limit that was in place on the date the person died. The limits for the last several years are:

  • On or after February 21, 2024: $50,000
  • January 1, 2024 through February 20, 2024: $28,000
  • 2023: $27,000
  • 2022: $25,000
  • 2020-2021: $24,000
  • 2018-2019: $23,000

Most small estates can be distributed with a small estate process. The small estate processes are called assignment of property and transfer by affidavit. An even simpler process can work if the person who died only left a car, personal property, or wages from a job. 

To learn more about distributing assets from a small estate, go to Distributing a Small Estate without Using a Will

All Other Estates

If an estate is worth more than $50,000, the small estates processes are not available. These estates are usually distributed with a traditional probate process. Traditional probate proceedings can be informal or formal, supervised or unsupervised. To learn more about informal and formal probate, read An Overview of Informal Probate and An Overview of Formal Probate. To learn more about supervised and unsupervised probate, read Supervised and Unsupervised Probate Administration

To learn more about distributing someone’s assets with a traditional probate proceeding, go to Distributing a Larger Estate or an Estate with a Will

Distributing property after someone dies can be complex. You may want to talk to a lawyer. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find a lawyer or legal services in your area.