Indiana 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.)
Indiana 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 property -- 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. An affidavit can't be used to transfer real estate.
The out-of-court affidavit procedure is available in Indiana if the value of the gross probate estate, less liens and encumbrances and reasonable funeral expenses, does not exceed $50,000. There is a 45-day waiting period. Ind. Code § 29-1-8-1. The inheritor must notify all other inheritors that he or she plans to submit this affidavit to the court. This process can be used to change the title of a vehicle or watercraft to the inheritor's name, to change the registered owner's name for a security (like a stock or bond), to get a death benefit from an insurance company and to get property stored in a safe deposit box.
Indiana also has a simplified probate process for small estates. If the value of property subject to probate does not exceed $50,000, plus the costs of administration and reasonable funeral expenses, the personal representative can distribute all the assets to the people who are entitled to inherit them. The personal representative does not have to notify creditors before distributing the assets.
After the personal representative has distributed the assets to the inheritors, the personal representative files a closing statement with the court and sends a copy to everyone who inherited and to all creditors of the estate. The closing statement must state that the value of the estate was less than $50,000, the estate assets were distributed to the inheritors, and that the inheritors and known creditors were given a copy of the closing statement. The personal representative must also give inheritors an accounting of how the assets were distributed. If real estate was transferred, an affidavit should be filed with the county recorder's office in the county where the real estate is situated and also filed with the closing statement. Ind. Code Ann. § § 29-1-8-3 and following.
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).