What is a Small Estate?

In South Carolina, opening a small estate is a convenient alternative to opening a full estate.  It’s a quick and cheap option available to some depending on the value of the decedent’s property that needs to be transferred.  The small estate process, authorized by S.C. Code Section 62-3-1201, allows the person that paid funeral expenses on behalf of the estate to transfer and receive certain types of property belonging to the decedent.  The person that paid the funeral expenses is considered a creditor of the estate and is therefore entitled to reimbursement for the amount they paid.  Any assets remaining after the reimbursement will be split according to the decedent’s Will or the laws of intestacy, whichever may apply.

Upon filing the proper form with the Probate Court along with proof the funeral expenses have been paid in full, the Probate Court will issue an order allowing the payor of the funeral expenses and/or the heirs to collect the property of the decedent.  The entire procedure with the Probate Court is completed within a few days once the Court issues its order, as opposed to the year or so it usually takes to administer a full estate.

Certain restrictions apply.  Thirty days must pass after the date of death before a small estate can be filed, and the value of the entire probate estate, minus liens and encumbrances, must not exceed $10,000.00 (please note this amount was increased to $25,000.00 in January 2014).  Almost any kind of property can be transferred via a small estate, except for real property.  If the decedent held any real property in their name without the essential rights of survivorship language appearing in the deed, opening a full estate will be necessary to properly transfer the land.

The small estate process can eliminate most of the expense and frustration associated with the process of transferring the assets of a deceased loved one.  If you think the procedure may be available to you, contact your county’s probate court.  Some counties require additional documentation before they will process a small estate.  Also, remember that the court cannot issue a small estate order until thirty days have passed since the date of death.  Use that time to locate all of the decedent’s property so that everything can be addressed and transferred at one time.

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One Response to What is a Small Estate?

  1. Greg says:

    Thank you for this information. But what about creditors other than the person who paid the funeral expenses? Are they simply out of luck in the small estate context? Why should the heirs walk away with up to $10,000.00 while deceased’s creditors get nothing?

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