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Unlocking the Potential of Small Estate Probate

Unlocking the Potential of Small Estate Probate

Troy Werner and his family

Written by Troy Werner

Troy Werner has been an indispensable asset to The Werner Law Firm since joining in 2009, providing exceptional legal service to its clients.

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POSTED ON: June 7, 2024

This article explores small estate probate, what it is, why it’s beneficial and ways to qualify.

Simplifying probate for small estates minimizes the emotional and financial strain on a loved one’s heirs. Many are unaware that even larger estates can qualify for these streamlined procedures, thanks to specific exclusions applied by various state laws. There are estate planning strategies for proactive individuals to reduce their estate value and unlock the potential of small estate probate. Based on Nolo’s article, “Small Estate Probate Shortcuts: Why Even Large Estates May Qualify,” this article explores small estate probate, what it is, why it’s beneficial, and ways to qualify.

What Is Small Estate Probate?

Small estate probate is a simplified legal procedure designed to fast-track the distribution of a deceased person's assets without the lengthy processes associated with traditional probate. Each state has its criteria for what constitutes a small estate, often excluding various assets from the estate's total value calculation, which can substantially affect how an estate is processed after death. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney can help navigate the nuanced probate process, especially when settling a small estate.

Can Large Estates Qualify as Small?

It might sound counterintuitive, but larger estates may qualify as small estates for probate in many states. States often exclude certain types of assets when tallying the total estate value. For instance, real estate in other states, jointly owned property, or assets in payable-on-death accounts (POD) may not count towards the small estate limit. This means an estate worth hundreds of thousands might fall under a state’s small estate threshold.

Can Your Estate Benefit from Small Estate Proceedings?

Each state has different exclusions and thresholds. Consult a knowledgeable estate planning attorney to see if your state will exempt significant parts of your assets from the probate process. For example, in California, the limit for small estates is $184,500. However, this doesn't include vehicles, payable-on-death accounts, or property passed directly to a surviving spouse. Therefore, strategic planning and asset management could position even a seemingly large estate to qualify as a small estate.

Why Is Small Estate Probate Beneficial?

Opting for small estate probate procedures can offer several advantages:

  • Speed: Faster than regular probate, allowing beneficiaries quicker access to the estate.
  • Cost: Lower legal fees and court costs since the process is streamlined.
  • Simplicity: Less paperwork and fewer legal complexities make it easier for executors and beneficiaries.

Planning for Small Estate Probate

Early planning is essential to maximizing the benefits of small estate probate. Consider how assets are titled, the designation of beneficiaries, and potential trust formations. These steps can ensure that your estate qualifies for these simplified procedures, thus providing ease for your beneficiaries.

Jointly owned properties, payable-on-death accounts, and certain types of real estate are not counted towards the overall value of the estate, potentially classifying a sizable estate as "small." Properly navigating these rules can shield significant assets from the probate process, reducing the time and cost of settling an estate.


Small estate probate or avoiding probate is ideal for helping individuals or families settle a loved one’s estate. If you're ready to discuss how these insights apply to your estate or if you need help crafting a plan that maximizes the benefits of your state’s probate laws, consult an experienced estate planning attorney.

Key Takeaways:

  • Small Estate Probate: Quicker, cheaper, and less complex probate proceedings.
  • State-Specific Exclusions: Many states exclude certain assets from the estate’s total value.
  • Larger Estates May Qualify: Strategic planning can help larger estates qualify as "small" under state laws.
  • Significant Benefits: Small estate probate can save significant time and money in legal fees and court costs.
  • Proactive Preparation is Key: Early estate planning and proper asset management are crucial to qualify for small estate probate.

If you want to set up your estate plan, or if you are dealing with a probate case and require assistance, we can help you.  Our probate attorneys in Los Angeles can guide you through it.

If you have any questions, schedule a free appointment with us through our online appointment page.

You can also read reviews from some of the hundreds of clients we have helped over the years.

Reference: NoloSmall Estate Probate Shortcuts: Why Even Large Estates May Qualify

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Whether you need help creating a living trust or navigating probate, our living trust law firm's compassionate team of estate planning lawyers and probate lawyers are here to help you and ready to answer your questions.

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