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Probate for Small Estates

The period following the death of a close friend or loved one is a stressful time, and dealing with the estate left behind can lead to many additional complications. Going through the entire probate process can be confusing and time-consuming. Indiana has eased the burden on those dealing with small estates by establishing procedures that allow for the disbursement of estate assets without going through probate. However, even in situations where probate for small estates is not necessary, it is important to consult with a knowledgeable Indianapolis probate attorney to ensure you correctly collect and distribute the assets.

Contact our experienced small estate probate lawyers today at Hessler Law today at (317) 886-8800.

Small Estate Threshold

The Indiana small estate procedures are available when the gross probate estate, less liens and encumbrances, does not exceed $50,000. The estate calculation includes all property owned by the decedent, including real estate. The value of the gross probate estate is determined by subtracting any outstanding debts on the property. For instance, an estate that includes a home valued at $200,000 could still be considered a small estate if there is an outstanding mortgage of at least $150,000.

Small Estate Affidavits

One of the procedures created in Indiana to simplify the probate process for small estates is allowing for the transfer of estate property through the presentation of an affidavit. A person who is entitled to property of the estate either through a will or through statutory inheritance can present an affidavit to the current property holder 45 days after the death of the decedent requiring the transfer of the property. A common usage of a small estate affidavit would be in obtaining funds from a decedent’s bank account. If a small estate affidavit that complies with the law is presented to the bank then the funds in the decedent’s bank account can be turned over immediately.

There are various forms that are used for this property transfer process, but Indiana law requires only that the affidavit contains the following statements:

  • That the value of the gross probate estate does not exceed $50,000
  • That it has been 45 days since the death of the decedent
  • That there has been no application for the appointment of a personal representative for the estate
  • The name and address of each distributee, and the property to which each distributee is entitled
  • That the affiant has notified each distributee to present the affidavit
  • That the affiant is entitled to delivery of the property on behalf of each distributee

Transfer of Motor Vehicles and Watercraft

The same Indiana law that provides for the small estate affidavit allowing for the transfer of estate property 45 days after the date of the decedent also addresses the transfer of motor vehicles and watercraft. The certificate of title to motor vehicles and watercraft may be transferred five days after the death of the decedent if an affidavit is provided to the bureau of motor vehicles containing the same statements as required of the small estate affidavit.

Enforcement of Small Estate Affidavits

If a party receives a valid small estate affidavit and refuses to turn over the property, the distributee entitled to the property also has the option of obtaining a court order for distribution of the property. A court order can be obtained without a hearing upon presentation of an affidavit to the court containing the same statements as required of the small estate affidavit. If the property holder did not respond within 30 business days after receipt of the initial small estate affidavit and was found to have acted in bad faith, the court can then award attorney’s fees and costs to the distributee.

Disbursement and Distribution of a Small Estate

In addition to the collection of estate assets through small estate affidavits, Indiana has also made it easier to disburse and distribute small estates. If it appears the gross probate estate does not exceed $50,000, the costs and expense of administration, and reasonable funeral expenses Indiana allows a personal representative or person acting on behalf of the distributees can begin immediately disbursing and distributing the estate without having to go through probate court.

If the estate includes real property the disbursement must include an affidavit that is filed in the county where the property is located. The affidavit must state that the value of the estate did not exceed the small estate limit and must also set forth the names and amount of interest for those that are entitled to a share of the real property.

Closing a Small Estate

Once the entire estate has been disbursed and distributed the personal representative is able to move forward with closing the estate at any time. The estate can be closed simply with the submission of a verified statement that the estate did not exceed the small estate limit, the estate has been fully disbursed and distributed, and that a closing statement along with a full account of the administration has been provided to the distributees whose interests were affected.

How an Indianapolis Probate Attorney Can Help

Indiana has recognized the difficulties of taking an estate through probate court and has set up procedures that can ease the burden on small estates. But an easier process does not mean that handling a small estate is a simple process. An experienced Indianapolis probate lawyer can assist with actions such as obtaining proper valuations for assets and drafting valid small estate affidavits.

Attorney Sean Hessler is an Indianapolis probate lawyer with experience handling estates of various sizes. He understands that estate matters are often difficult to deal with after the loss of someone close, and will help walk you through the process. Call Hessler Law at (317) 886-8800 today for a free and confidential consultation if you have questions about probate matters.