Illinois offers some probate shortcuts for "small estates." These procedures make it easier for survivors to transfer property left by a person who has died. You may be able to transfer a large amount of property using simplified probate procedures or without any probate court proceedings at all -- by using an affidavit. And that saves time, money, and hassle.
Here are the ways you can skip or speed up probate. (If the affidavit procedure is used, there's no need to use the simplified probate procedure.)
Illinois has a procedure that allows inheritors to skip probate altogether when the value of all the assets left behind is less than a certain amount. All an inheritor has to do is prepare a short document, stating that he or she is entitled to a certain asset. This document, signed under oath, is called an affidavit. When the person or institution holding the asset -- for example, a bank where the deceased person had an account -- gets the affidavit and a copy of the death certificate, it releases the asset. You can request a small estate affidavit from the probate court clerk in the county where the deceased person lived. The affidavit must contain specific information, including the deceased person's name and address, your name, a description of the property and a list of the deceased person's funeral expenses. It must contain specific language, including a statement that valid creditor claims must be paid out before any property is distributed to the inheritors.
The out-of-court affidavit procedure is available in Illinois if the gross value of all of the deceased person's property that passes under a will or by state law, excluding real estate, is $100,000 or less. 755 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/25-1.
Illinois has a simplified probate process for small estates. To use it, an executor files a written request with the local probate court asking to use the simplified procedure. The court may authorize the executor to distribute the assets without having to jump through the hoops of regular probate.
You can use the simplified small estate process in Illinois if the gross value of property subject to probate in Illinois does not exceed $100,000 and no unpaid debt or taxes are owed. All heirs and beneficiaries must consent in writing. Notice must be published of the death, the filing of the petition and the date, time and place of the hearing on the petition in a newspaper published in the county where the petition is filed at least once a week for three weeks, starting no sooner than 30 days before the hearing date. 755 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/9-8.
For help determining if an estate qualifies for one of these probate shortcuts, or handling an estate in general, see The Executor's Guide, by Mary Randolph (Nolo), or Estate Planning Basics, by Denis Clifford (Nolo).