When a loved one passes away, it can take a long time to probate their estate. Probate is a legal court-based process that formally verifies the existence of a Will, ensures that the Will is valid, and provides oversight on the process of distributing assets and property per Will instructions. The court also handles any litigation that could arise, such as disputes about inheritances, or claims coming from creditors or lenders. As you might imagine, there is a lot to this process. When lucky, it can take several months. However, it’s more common for probate to take at least a year, if not longer. As a family member of the deceased individual, that can often feel too stressful and too long to wait.
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Luckily, there are some legal tools that allow estates to avoid probate altogether, or at least move through the probate process much faster. One such tool is summary administration, which is available in some states.
What is summary administration?
Summary administration is a legal procedure available in some states that allows an estate to move through probate more quickly, as long as the estate does not exceed a set value.
When no further court supervision or estate administration is necessary, it can help speed up closing. Summary administration is available for estates with or without a Will. When approved, estate administration is completed without any further court supervision using the instructions in the decedent’s Will. If the decedent died intestate, or without a Will, then the applicable intestacy laws are used. Dealing with an estate with no Will? Find out how intestate succession laws apply.
Here is an example of how an estate in Oklahoma may qualify for summary administration:
The estate does not exceed $200,000 in value
The decedent passed away at least 5 years ago
The decedent lived outside of the state at the time of their death
If an estate satisfies any of the above three scenarios, then the personal representative of the estate may apply for summary administration. Note that this is an example of requirements in the state of Oklahoma and can vary by state.
How does a summary administration work?
Probate laws vary from state to state, meaning the requirements for summary probate are specific to the state in which the estate is located. However, there are some general steps in which summary administration works in most states.
Summary administration is initiated when the Executor of an estate files a summary administration petition. If there is no Will, it can be another surviving family member. The petition must be filed within a certain time frame after the decedent’s passing.
The petition will ask for the estate value, as well as a written statement regarding how the estate meets the summary administration limit as defined by state law. The petition should also prove the Will’s validity (if a Will is available.) The person filing the petition must also submit relevant supporting documents, such as a copy of the Will, a copy of the death certificate, and an accounting of estate assets and beneficiaries.
Once the summary administration petition is filed, then the estate enters a waiting period. Creditors have an opportunity to file claims against the estate during this time. This waiting period is generally one or two months, which is much shorter than the full probate process.
When the waiting period concludes, the estate pays any taxes and debts that are owed. After this, the remaining estate assets can be distributed to their rightful heirs. The estate can finally close once these final asset distributions are made.
Essentially, the process of summary administration itself does not look too different from the traditional probate process. However, the waiting times are much shorter and the process can be concluded much quicker relative to a full probate.
When can a summary administration be filed?
An individual can file a petition for summary administration 6 months after they have been appointed as Administrator or Executor of an estate. In other words, the estate must have been opened by the probate court and have passed a waiting period of 6 months or longer.
What happens when a summary administration is approved?
If all the requirements of summary administration have been met, then the court will typically grant a Motion for Summary Administration. Once this has been granted, the court will close the estate. They will also release the Executor or Administrator bond, if it was required.
Then, the Administrator or Executor is expected to complete the administration of the estate without any further supervision by the court. They are obligated to carry out the administration in line with the instructions outlined in the Will. If a Will is not available, then the state’s intestacy laws are used, which we referred to earlier in this article.
How to complete a summary administration: step-by-step guide
Now that we’ve gone over the basics of summary administration, let’s now go over what should happen if you yourself are planning to file a summary administration petition.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to complete a summary administration:
File a summary administration petition with the probate court. In this petition, you are asking to be appointed as the personal representative of the estate.
The court will review your petition. If satisfied, you will be appointed personal representative without a hearing.
The court will set a date for a final hearing, which must be at least 45 calendar days after you’re appointed personal representative.
Once you’re appointed personal representative, you have 10 calendar days to mail out notices with the final hearing date. Recipients should include all creditors of the decedent and all heirs and other interested parties of the estate. Within this same time frame, you must also publish a notice in a newspaper in the county in which the probate is filed. This must be done once weekly over a two-week period. This notice should include the name, address, and date of death of the decedent, your contact information, availability of a Will, the value of the estate, the name and address of all heirs, and the time and place of the final hearing. This notice is giving members of the public an opportunity to file an objection any time before the hearing, as well as creditors to file a claim.
Last but not least, attend the final hearing. The court will be hearing any objections or claims, if there are any. If you are deemed to have performed your duties as personal representative in full, the court will order that the remaining property of the estate can be distributed. Your duties as a personal presentative have concluded and the case is closed!
There is a second, lesser known form of summary administration that is processed even faster. This can be used if the estate is even lower than the maximum threshold (the amount is defined by the state.)
Here is the process for the more expedited version of summary administration:
File the summary administration petition. The court will set an initial hearing.
At this hearing, you request that the court appoint you personal representative.
Once appointed, you must file an inventory of the estate’s property and assets. This must be completed within two months.
If the inventory proves that the estate is under the value threshold (defined by the state), the court will allow for a summary administration and will set a final hearing date.
You must publish a notice in the local newspaper with the time and place of the final hearing. This must be done at least 35 days before the final hearing. The notice must state that creditors have 30 days to make a claim against the estate.
Then, you must mail a copy of the notice to each heir and any other interested parties of the estate. Make sure to do this 10 days before the hearing.
File a final accounting of the estate to the court at least 5 days before the final hearing.
Last but not least, attend the final hearing. If there are any claims or objections, they are heard and adjudicated. The judge will verify that you fulfilled your personal representative duties. Then, they will order that all property is distributed to the heirs. Once this is complete, you are relieved from your duties and the case is shut!
Update your estate plan today
The probate process is notoriously long, complicated, and costly. Although it is an important and vital legal process, it can also sometimes feel overwhelming during a time of grief and loss. What’s more, growing populations means that the case load in court systems are increasing, making probate wait times even longer.
That’s why it’s so important to understand what shortcuts may be possible, and how to pursue them if they’re available to you. If the estate you’re handling is valued at or under the set threshold in your state, be sure to explore the option of a summary administration.
Know that there are also things that you can do to minimize the impacts of probate when setting up your own estate. For instance, you can move property and assets out of your estate and into a Living Trust. Further, you can leverage legal tools such as beneficiary designations and certain property deeds that have survivorship or transfer-on-death rights. At Trust & Will, we make it easy and affordable to set up an estate plan that incorporates one or more (or all!) of these strategies of your choosing! Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning and settlement options today!
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