Virginia Small Estates Act Amended

The Virginia General Assembly made amendments (effective July 1, 2010) to the Small Estates Act, which provides streamlined procedures for the handling of smaller estates.  Importantly, probate estates valued at $50,000 or less (not including real estate) may be able to be distributed without the appointment of a personal representative (executor) and without going through the formal probate process.  The 2010 amendments added the defined term “small asset” – meaning any asset (other than real property) belonging to or presently distributable to the decedent valued at no more than $50,000.  A small asset must be delivered by any person holding it to a designated successor upon the presentation of an affidavit meeting certain requirements.  For small assets worth $15,000 or less, no affidavit is required, as long as a few conditions are met.

In many cases, the Small Estate Act provides a more efficient mechanism for wrapping up the estate of a deceased person.  Note that the technical legal definition of a “probate asset” for purposes of determining the size of an estate under the Act is not the same as a common sense understanding of someone’s estate.  For this reason, the Small Estate Act may be applicable in circumstances where the total estate is far more than $50,000 – for example, where most assets are held jointly with right of survivorship or held in a trust.  Heirs, beneficiaries, and persons named as executors are well-advised to consider (or seek counsel regarding) whether the Small Estate Act procedures are applicable, because there is great potential for saving time and expense.