Small Estate
- When a Person Dies with less than $50,000

When the person who died (the Decedent) had less than $50,000 of personal property then it's considered a small estate, and is called a Voluntary Administration. It does not matter if the Decedent had a Will or not. Personal property is things that belong to a person not including real property. Here are examples of what is and is not a small estate and where other proceedings should be filed:

  • If the Decedent owned real property, like a house or land, in their name alone then IT IS NOT a small estate anymore.
  • If Decedent owned real property jointly with another person and had less than $50,000 of personal property, then IT IS a small estate.
  • If there's real property and a Will, then a probate proceeding should be filed.
  • If there's no Will and real property then an administration proceeding should be filed.

In some cases, there is a possibility of a wrongful death or other lawsuit in the future. In that case, a probate proceeding or an administration proceeding should be filed instead even if there is less than $50,000 of personal property at the time of Decedent's death, because of the chance of winning a large amount of money from the wrongful death or other lawsuit on behalf of the person who died.

In a small estate proceeding, the Surrogate's Court appoints a Voluntary Administrator. If there is a Will, the Executor of the Will is appointed the Voluntary Administrator. If there is no Will, then the closest relative is named the Voluntary Administrator. The Surrogate's Court issues a certificate for each asset listed in the papers which the Voluntary Administrator collects and distributes according to the law.


Filing for a Small Estate

If there is a Will, the Executor files the original Will and a certified death certificate with the small estate affidavit petition and other supporting documents in the Surrogate's Court in the county where the Decedent had their primary residence.

If the Decedent didn't have a Will, then there is a rule for who can file the small estate affidavit. In general, the person who is the closest distributee to the Decedent files for administration. See When There Is No Will.

The filing fee is $1.00.

The easiest way to make the court papers is to use the Small Estate DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Form program. This program walks you step-by-step to complete the paperwork you need and gives you helpful definitions and legal information. When you finish the program you get the court forms you need and instructions of what to do next.


YouTube DIY Forms Ask a Law Librarian