The probate process can be long and drawn-out, costing your survivors time as well as money. Fortunately, Arkansas offers a probate shortcut for "small estates." If the property you leave behind at your death is below a certain amount, your estate can use a simplified probate procedure to transfer your property more quickly and with less hassle.
Arkansas offers a procedure that allows inheritors to skip probate altogether. This procedure is called "small estate distribution" or "distribution without administration." To qualify, the estate (the property you own at death) must meet these requirements:
Ark. Code Ann. § 28-41-101. When calculating the total value of the property, you can exclude allowances for the spouse or children under Arkansas law, as well as the deceased person's "homestead," which is typically the primary residence, if owned by the deceased person.
If your estate meets the requirements listed above, all the inheritor or estate representative has to do is sign a simple document, called an affidavit, and file it with the local probate court. The Affidavit for Collection of Small Estate by Distributee (Form 23) contains:
After signing the document and having it notarized, the representative files the affidavit in the local probate court for a small fee. The clerk of the court certifies the affidavit. The representative can then presents the certified affidavit to the person or institution holding the property—for example, a bank where the deceased person had an account. The representative will usually also need to provide a certified copy of the death certificate. After that, the person or institution transfers the property.
If the deceased person owned real estate, there's an extra step: within 30 days after filing the affidavit, the representative must publish a notice of the death and the filing of the affidavit. The notice must say that any creditors must make claims against the estate within three months from the date of publishing the notice. Ark. Code Ann. § 28-41-101(b)(2).
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 Arkansas estate planning issues, see our section on Arkansas Estate Planning.