topic | opening probate

Step: determine affidavit procedure qualification for small estates

An affidavit documents the estate’s assets, liabilities, and heirs or beneficiaries. It comes in many formats. Some allow a single beneficiary to make a claim. Others list the entire estate and how the property is to be distributed to beneficiaries. An affidavit may enable the executor to bypass the more extensive probate process and coordinate quicker distribution of assets amongst beneficiaries. The Small Estate Affidavit is a sworn, notarized statement created according to a state’s probate code.

The use of an affidavit is extremely desirable. It reduces the cost, time, and complexity required to settle the estate. However, it is only available in roughly half the states and under certain conditions. Consult the probate court for state specific guidelines and restrictions on the use of an affidavit.

Activity 1
Assess State Guidelines for the use of Affidavit Procedures

Qualification guidelines for affidavit procedures vary by state. Restrictions are common including:

  • A regular probate case cannot already be open.
  • In many states, the estate must be free of debt.
  • A waiting period of 10-60 days following death must occur.
  • The value of the estate must not exceed state specific caps.
  • In most cases real estate may not be part of the estate.

Contact the county Probate Court for confirmation that the estate qualifies.

Is the use of an affidavit probable?

Activity 2
Obtain an Affidavit

In some states an affidavit must be obtained through the county court. In other states it may be obtained without the interaction of the court. An affidavit may be acquired through an estate attorney or in some cases online.

The following may be required:

Activity 3
Distribute Assets According to the Affidavit

Possession of an affidavit allows for the distribution of assets among named beneficiaries. For example, beneficiaries may now contact specific financial institutions and request that the decedent's accounts, payable to the claimant, be liquidated or transferred. A death certificate and the Will may be required.

Activity 4
Gather Information, and List Personal, Household and Medical Accounts

It will be necessary to cancel any unnecessary personal or medical accounts. Personal accounts include anything related directly to the deceased such as health club memberships and subscriptions. Household accounts may include utilities, home services, phone, cable television, and Internet subscriptions. Medical accounts may include a primary care physician, dentist, eye doctor, pharmacy, and insurance carriers. Ensure that needed services are paid or that notification has been given that they cannot be paid.

Make a list of accounts.   Accounts, Deposits Deductions, and Dues Subscriptions my contain helpful information. If not, use them as a guide.

Obtain the following for each account:

  • name of account and contact information
  • name on the account
  • account number
  • copy of the death certificate
  • copy of the affidavit

Activity 5
Notify Personal, Household and Medical Accounts, and Make Cancelations

Contact critical accounts first. Attend to accounts with overdue balances quickly.

Request information regarding the account including:

  • exact name on the account
  • account number
  • balance and due date
  • payment method (check, debit, direct deposit)
  • passwords for online accounts

Request written verification of the following:

  • account balance
  • verification of the closure of an account - an account cannot be closed until any outstanding balance has been paid. If this is the case, request that the account be frozen.
  • If the name is changed on the account

Always ask for a refund if the account has been prepaid. For example, newspaper subscriptions are often paid through the end of the year, and insurance premiums are paid quarterly.

Determine if an account balance can be canceled. If estate funds are small or non-existent, the account will probably not be paid. If the balance due is low, creditors may be willing to close the account without payment.

Notify all organizations associated with the deceased. This helps to prevent identity theft, reduces junk mail, and provides peace of mind.

Register the deceased with the Direct Marketing Association’s “Deceased Do Not Contact” list at This should stop direct marketing mail.

If there is a surviving spouse, it may be possible to change the name on the accounts. If not, the account should be closed, and a new account should be opened.

Activity 6
Gather Information, and Make a List of Government Entities to Contact

Cancel the deceased’s driver’s license, identification card, voter’s registration, and passport to prevent fraudulent use, and notify Social Services or local courts as circumstances require. These notifications are required in addition to earlier notifications made to Social Security, local police, and the United States Postal Office, as described in the Topic: First Days after Death.

  • Locate the deceased’s driver’s license, identification card, and passport (if issued).
  • Gather copies of the death certificate and court appointed papers.
  • Gather contact information for the necessary government agencies.
  • Determine if there other agencies to contact. Are there outstanding parking tickets or handicap tags?
  • For court proceedings such as lawsuits, contact an estate attorney for legal advice.

Activity 7
Notify Government Entities and Make Cancelations

Use the following documents as tools to construct requests for cancelation:

To cancel a driver’s license or voter’s registration, a copy of the death certificate is required. Cancelation of voter’s registration is done in the county in which the deceased lived. A driver’s license may be kept for posterity, destroyed, or included with the cancelation request.

To cancel a passport, include an original death certificate and the original passport with the request for cancellation.

If the decedent was not a U.S. citizen, notify the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service at 800-375-5283.

Is real estate owned in other states?

(if this Step is complete)
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