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September 18, 2016

What You Need to Know About Small Estates in SC

Greenville SC estate planning lawyer

Many people don’t realize that things work differently with small estates – that is, those which are valued below the “small estates” limit ($25,000) – in South Carolina. In fact, if the estate qualifies as a small estate, then you can completely avoid the formal probate court proceeding that is typically involved in estate matters following a death.

In many cases, the deceased person will have left a will to clarify their wishes and intentions. However, even if this is not the case and no will is present, the value of the assets will be the most important factor in determining how the estate is handled. There is a much simpler procedure for small estates, and this is known as a summary probate. It involves the filing of a few simple forms and a brief waiting period before the assets can be distributed. When compared to the process of going in front of a judge at a court hearing, this is much less complicated and less time consuming.

Of course, every state is different. In some states, it is more difficult; and in others, it is even easier. There are states where those who inherit a small estate can claim assets with an affidavit, swearing in front of a notary that they are the rightful heirs of the estate and that no probate proceedings are in effect.

When it comes to small estates in South Carolina, you will first need to establish that it does in fact meet the requirements to be defined as a small estate. This means that the value of the state must be below the small estates limit. To establish this, you will have to determine the actual value of the estate, which you can begin to do by making a list of all of the assets. Many find that it is easiest to create a spreadsheet to manage this process.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to include everything that the person owned on this list of assets. Only assets that will be passed onto heirs are relevant to this process. This may include the assets listed in a will, or – if there is no will – it may include assets that will be inherited based on the intestacy laws of SC.

Some assets that should not be included on this list include retirement plans, bank accounts that are payable-on-death, joint tenancy assets, and transfer-on-death brokerage accounts or deeds. With these sorts of assets, beneficiaries will receive them whether there is a will or not. Another example can be found in life insurance policies where a beneficiary is specifically named. In situations like this, there is no need to include such assets in your spreadsheet.

To get a clearer picture of how you might identify a small estate in South Carolina, imagine that a woman with two children has passed away and left behind the following assets:

  • Checking Account with $2,000
  • Savings Account with $3,000
  • Car worth $6,000
  • IRA worth $35,000 with both children as beneficiaries
  • Life Insurance Policy worth $20,000 with both children as beneficiaries

In this situation, the IRA and the life insurance policy are not included as assets because the children are the established beneficiaries. Thus, you only need to add up the checking account, the savings account, and the value of the car for a total of $11,000. This, being less than $25,000, falls within the guidelines of a small estate in South Carolina. If there is no will in place, then the children of the deceased can inherit these assets under the intestacy laws of SC.

All they need to do is work through the summary probate procedure to file an affidavit for a small estate, which does not include any liens, mortgages, or other encumbrances that would pass by will or under intestacy laws. Then, they will need to wait for 30 days and have the affidavit approved by a probate judge.

The summary probate procedure is appropriate for any small estate, valued at less than $25,000, without including exempt property, medical expenses, and funeral expenses.

For a free consultation with an experienced Greenville probate lawyer, contact the Anderson Law Firm. We routinely handle matters in Greenville County and nearby jurisdictions.