Small Estate Affidavit = "Probate Light"
When a person dies there are several ways that their assets can be distributed. If they have designated their accounts as Pay on Death, (POD) or Transfer on Death, (TOD). they will pass to the person(s) indicated on their POD or TOD designation. If there is a beneficiary designation, the asset will pass to the beneficiary(s). If a trust is in place, the assets controlled by the trust will pass to the people designated by the terms of the trust. If there is a will that designates where assets should go, and the value of the assets exceeds the limit for a Small Estate, then the distribution will be controlled by a court supervised process called probate. Probate is used whether there is a will, or not, when no other means of asset transfer has been set-up before death and the value exceeds that which is allowed in a Small Estate process.
When assets are below a statutory maximum for probate, with or without a will, a simpler alternative process to probate may be used, which is commonly referred to as a Small Estate Affidavit process. The circumstances and value necessary to qualify for a Small Estate depends on the governing law in each particular state. Currently, in Oregon, if the estate of the deceased contained no more than $200,000 worth of real estate and $75,000 dollars in non-real estate assets, the small estate process may be utilized to distribute the assets. While the process still involves filing an affidavit with the probate court and paying a small filing fee, the process is far cheaper, quicker and easier than full probate, hence the reason I refer to it as "Probate Lite." To see if your situation may qualify for a small estate process, search "Small Estates" and insert the name of your state. You should see information regarding the circumstances and asset levels that qualify, if allowed, in your state. However, be careful of websites that masquerade as "official" websites, when in reality they are just official looking advertisements for persons who want to charge for assisting you through the process. There is nothing wrong with paying a professional to assist with the process, but realize that a Small Estate process should cost much less than full probate and you should shop around for attorneys offering the service and their fees.
DISCLAIMER: As always, this information is general in nature and is not intended as specific legal advice, or to create and attorney client relationship. For complete information you should consult a qualified attorney in your area.