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What should I know about small estates when estate planning?

Not every New Yorker has a vast portfolio with significant assets that must be distributed at the time of death. Some people have significantly less. This determines the designation of the property of the decedent being referred to as a "small estate." If there was less than $30,000 in personal property - items that do not include real property - at the time of death, it will be a small estate. Technically, the estate is subject to Voluntary Administration. This makes it irrelevant as to whether the decedent had crafted a will.

In certain instances, when the death might have been wrongful or there is a lawsuit possible, there should be probate or an administration proceeding even if it is a small estate. For those who owned "real" property - for example, a home - then it will not be a small estate. With real property and a will, probate should be used. If there is real property and no will, there should be an administration proceeding. For those who owned real property jointly with another individual and was below the $30,000 threshold in personal property, it will be a small estate.

With a small estate, a Voluntary Administrator will be appointed by the Surrogate's Court. With a will, the executor will be the Voluntary Administrator. Without a will, the closest heir will be the Voluntary Administrator. There will be a certificate issued for each asset that is listed. The Voluntary Administrator will subsequently distribute the assets. With a will, the executor will file it along with the death certificate and the small estate affidavit. Without a will, the person who was closest to the decedent will file for administration.

Those who have an estate that is not substantial and do or do not have a will should understand the concept of a small estate. Having legal assistance with estate planning and estate administration is not limited to those who have massive assets. It is wise for everyone to have a grasp on these legal issues. Discussing the situation with an attorney experienced in a wide variety of estate planning issues is essential.

Source: nycourts.gov, "Small Estate," accessed on Sept. 26, 2017

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