While I typically use this space to talk about estate planning, sometimes an estate is small enough that not much planning is needed. In fact, sometimes probate can be completely avoided.
What Is a Small Estate?
Nebraska Revised Statute §30-24, 125 recites the guidelines. Basically, if a decedent’s estate involves less than $50,000 in probatable personal property and/or $50,000 or less in real estate, no probate is required.
Probatable property is that which is not co-owned JTWROS (Joint Tenancy With Right Of Survivorship) or designated POD (Pay-On-Death) or TOD (Transfer-On-Death). Instead, probate property requires the probate court to determine who inherits and ultimately receives the property. So, for example, if a person dies with $100,000 in personal property, $60,000 of which is designated to someone POD, then this Affidavit of Transfer could be used to distribute the remaining $40,000 in lieu of the probate process. In this example, the first $60,000 would pass directly to the person designated.
What Are the Benefits of a Small Estate Affidavit?
A simple probate performed by an attorney for an hourly fee usually costs $6,000 to $7,500. The primary reason for this is the many legal steps required (28 typically), each of which requires document preparation and a court filing.
In the affidavit approach, the only legal preparation expense is the affidavit itself (usually around $250). The remaining work can be done by a layperson: an informal inventory of the estate, collection of assets, and distribution to legal heirs. None of these steps needs to be filed with the probate court.
No personal representative is required. If there is more than one legal heir, then the other heirs sign an affidavit agreeing that one, or more heirs, will be responsible for collecting and distributing estate assets.
The appointed individual then collects assets by producing the signed affidavit where necessary: banks, Treasurer’s office, Register of Deeds office, etc. Typically, property holders don’t balk in handing over the decedent’s property because this statute, and the affidavit, releases them from liability in delivering requested assets.
If there is real estate involved, the appropriate affidavit is filed with the Register of Deeds, transferring ownership to the legal heirs.
So, if you find yourself in a situation where a close relative has died and left a small estate, keep the affidavit process in mind.