The probate process can be long and drawn-out, costing your survivors time as well as money. Fortunately, Alaska offers two probate shortcuts for "small estates." If the property you leave behind at your death is below a certain amount, Alaska allows the property to be transferred more quickly and with less hassle. In other words, if your estate qualifies as "small," your loved ones may be able to use simplified probate procedures, or even skip probate entirely.
Alaska offers a procedure that allows inheritors to skip probate altogether. To qualify, the estate (the property you own at death) must meet these requirements:
If your estate meets the requirements listed above, all your inheritor has to do is sign a simple document under oath, called an affidavit. The Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property contains:
After signing the document (and swearing to its truthfulness) and having it notarized, the inheritor simply presents the affidavit to the person or institution holding the property—for example, a bank where the deceased person had an account. The inheritor will usually also need to provide a certified copy of the death certificate. After that, the person or institution transfers the property.
Another probate shortcut that Alaska offers is a simplified probate process for small estates, called "summary administration" (or "summary probate"). Unlike the affidavit procedure discussed above, summary administration does not allow your survivors to skip probate. However, the probate process is much more streamlined than full probate, saving time, probate fees, and potentially lawyer fees.
You can use summary administration in Alaska if the value of the entire estate, less liens and encumbrances, does not exceed the value of:
Alaska Stat. § 13.16.690. So what does all this mean? It's tricky not to have an exact dollar amount to compare against the size of your estate, but it really depends on your circumstances—for example, whether you leave behind a spouse and/or children. Some of these amounts also change frequently to match cost of living adjustments.
The bottom line is that if the size of your estate doesn't exceed these amounts, which can be set aside from your estate by law, your executor or personal representative can wrap up your estate in probate court very quickly because there aren't any remaining assets after these amounts are paid out.
To begin summary administration in Alaska, you'll have to open a probate case in probate court, just like regular probate. You'll also request to be appointed as the personal representative. However, you'll be able to skip these steps of regular probate:
Once the court has approved, and you've distributed all of the property, you'll file a Sworn Statement of Personal Representative Closing Small Estate. You'll also send a copy of the statement to anyone who received property and interested people, along with an accounting.
For more help handling an estate in general, see The Executor's Guide, by Mary Randolph (Nolo). For an introduction to how you can plan your estate to help your survivors, try Estate Planning Basics, by Denis Clifford (Nolo).
For more on Alaska estate planning issues, see our section on Alaska Estate Planning.