New small estate limits for 2020

Effective January 1, 2020, personal and real property valued under $166,250 may not need to go through the probate process. Previously, personal and real property had to be valued under $150,000 to be exempt from the lengthy probate process. If the decedent’s personal and/or real property is believed to be under $166,250, the petitioner (i.e. a spouse or child) can request a court order which determines the petitioner has succeeded to the personal and/or real property of the decedent. Additionally, starting on January 1, 2020, any heir or beneficiary of the decedent can file to transfer title of the decedent’s real property so long as the real property is valued under $55,425. Previously, this was only an option if the decedent’s real property was valued under $50,000.

These adjustments will be readjusted on April 1, 2022 and then again in 2025. While there are adjustments to the value cap of the personal and real property of the decedent, there are still other restrictions that must be met to avoid the probate process.

Why does probate cost so much?

Earlier this week I wrote about how probate costs run into the tens of thousands even for homeowners that only have a condo.   The family I met last week was understandably angry at the idea of probate.  Why do you have to pay the government tens of thousands of dollars when you die just to give your house to your children?  The answer is you don’t, but only with proper planning, and a will is usually not enough.

Why do I need to go through probate if I already have a will?

Because your will is just the start of the probate process.

First, the court has to examine your will to ensure that it is a valid will.  Then, once it has determined it is valid, the court must appoint a personal representative to distribute the deceased’s assets.  Someone, usually the executor or an attorney, has to:

  • publish notices and notify creditors
  • deduct costs of administration before distribution
  • transfer assets to beneficiaries
  • handle any pending lawsuits and claims against the estate
  • deal with any contests to the will

These all take time and money.  The estate must cover the cost of Judges, clerks, lawyers, administrators, and all of the time and overhead associated with these people.  These procedures are in place to ensure that the wishes of the deceased are carried out to the fullest.

For the majority of cases where the heirs aren’t arguing about, or even thinking about, who will get what, these costs can seem like an unfair burden.  Still, it is the price we pay to ensure that even the least among us has his or her wishes carried out.

Often, these costs are avoidable through proper estate planning. Rather than pay the tens of thousands later, and go through the lengthy probate process, you can increase the speed of distribution and decrease the costs by making plans well in advance.