Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Small Estates and Transfer by Affidavits

Last week I met with a women who was handling the affairs of her mother who had died just over a year ago. I could tell that she dreaded the p-word, probate.  The smile that enveloped her face when I told her that no probate was needed was the perfect way to end my day.  Sometimes I actually get to deliver good news!

In Wisconsin, if a person dies with a probate estate of less than $50,000, probate can be avoided.  Instead an obscure form known as the Transfer by Affidavit can be used.  The forms tells a financial institution to close out the account and send the money to the person filing the affidavit.

Photo credit: www.sxc.hu - free image

The idea behind this process is that it does not make economical sense for a probate to be open when the probate assets are small.  Hence, in some states it is called a Small Estate Process.  The key is to know whether the probate estate is less than $50,000.  To answer this you need an inventory of probate property and their value upon the date of death.

Probate property is anything that does not have a label on it stating where it should go upon the owner's death. If there is a label, then it is considered non-probate property, and avoids the probate process.  In theory, person could have several hundred thousand dollars, even millions, and still file a "small estate" transfer by affidavit if the probate estate was less than $50,000 (that is the current threshold, it was increased from $20,000 several years ago).

Please keep in mind that laws regarding probate and estate planning vary from state to state, and that a blog is not legal advice.  Please consult an attorney in your state about your specific situation.  But, before loosing sleep over the dreaded p-word, first rule out that a small estate transfer won't work.

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