Many people are determined to take steps so that their estate will avoid probate when they die, and while this can be very helpful for some, it is important to realize that probate for a small estate may not be that big of a problem. The real dilemma will be in determining what would constitute a small estate.
A small estate is basically any estate with assets subject to probate that are less than $15,000 (in Kentucky), though this amount can vary by state. Assets such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts would not go through probate because they pass directly to the named beneficiaries. The types of assets that could count toward the value of an estate would be real estate, personal property, etc.
If there is no will, the probate court will determine who will inherit according to intestacy law; if there is a will that does not name heirs according to intestacy law, the process can still remain simple as long as no one contests the will.
When someone has few assets and limited personal belongings, probate can be fairly simple. You will often see this type of situation with nursing home patients, and those that have been living with family for a long time. The problem is that if there is any real estate at all, the estate will often not be considered small due to the value of the real estate, when combined with other assets.
If you have a loved one that has passed and you are unsure if their assets would constitute a small estate or not, you will want to contact an estate planning attorney to get advice on how to move forward with settling the estate. In many cases settling a small estate through probate will not be too difficult at all.
Of course if you are putting together your own estate plan and are wondering what you need in your plan, you should consult with your attorney. While many estate plans are simple, some may require that you have a Living trust, as well as other legal documents to provide you and your family the maximum amount of protection possible.