What is a small estate affidavit?

A small estate affidavit can be used after a family member or spouse has passed away to speed up the process of estate resolution. If someone has passed away without a will or trust, and the estate is a small one, a small estate affidavit may come into play. An affidavit can also be used if you were named the executor of a “small estate.”


While the definition of “small estate” can vary between states, in California it means that the value of the estate is not greater than $150,000. If the estate qualifies under this definition, an inheritor can prepare a document called an affidavit, which states that he or she is entitled to a certain item of property either under a will or state law. The affidavit must be prepared at least 40 days after the passing of the family member or spouse.


The affidavit is signed under oath. When the person or institution holding the property (for example, the bank where the account was held) receives the affidavit with a copy of the death certificate, the money or property is released.


Still wondering whether you qualify under the “small estate” definition?


The following list covers the assets that are included in the $150,000 limit: bank accounts, brokerage accounts, stock, bonds, mutual funds, any other investments, real property (valued up to $50,000), and similar assets that the deceased owned in his/her name only except for:

1.  Joint tenancy assets.

2.  Trust assets.

3.  IRAs, 401K accounts, and similar pension accounts.

4.  Life insurance.

5.  Death benefits.

6.  Registered vehicles.

7.  Pay from service with the armed forces.

8.  Salary from any source not paid before date of death up to $15,000.

9.  Pay on death (POD) accounts.

10.  Accounts with a named beneficiary.


Do you need legal assistance with a will or trust issue? Please contact the Santa Barbara County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service – 805-569-9400

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