Probate Shortcuts in Delaware

Save time and money when you wrap up a simple estate in Delaware.

Updated by , Attorney

The probate process can be long and drawn-out, costing your survivors time as well as money. Fortunately, Delaware 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.

When Can You Use Simplified Probate in Delaware?

Delaware offers a procedure that allows inheritors to skip probate altogether. This procedure is informally called "small estate administration." To qualify, the estate must meet these requirements:

  • the value of all property (with certain exceptions) can't exceed $30,000, and
  • there is no real estate in the estate (unless the deceased person owned the real estate jointly with right of survivorship; in that case, the real estate passes directly to the surviving joint owner and does not go through probate).

Del. Code Ann. Tit. 12, § 2306.

How to Use Delaware's Small Estate Administration Process

If the estate qualifies, the inheritor (with priority for the surviving spouse, and after that, the next of kin) can use this simplified probate procedure, but must wait 30 days following the death to apply.

To begin the process, the inheritor should visit the probate court (called the "register of wills" in Delaware) in the county where the deceased person was living. The inheritor will need to bring a certified copy of the death certificate and a picture I.D. The inheritor will then fill out and sign under oath a document called a "small estate affidavit." This affidavit contains several statements, such as:

  • 30 days elapsed since the deceased person's death
  • the value of all property (with certain exceptions) doesn't exceed $30,000
  • the deceased person did not own real estate in Delaware, either solely or as tenants in common
  • all known debts are paid or provided for, and
  • if the deceased person leaves behind a surviving spouse, the spousal allowance (an amount set aside for the spouse under 12 Del. C. § 2308) has been paid, provided for, waived, or expired.
Once the probate court certifies the affidavit, the inheritor can request copies of the certified affidavit and begin transferring property that belonged to the deceased person. When you present the certified affidavit to any person or institution holding the deceased person's property—for example, a bank where the deceased person had an account—the person or institution will be required to transfer the property to the inheritor.

For More Information

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 Delaware estate planning issues, see our section on Delaware Estate Planning.

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