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.