The probate process can be long and drawn-out, costing your survivors time as well as money. Fortunately, Maine offers two probate shortcuts for "small estates." If the property you leave behind at your death is below a certain amount, Maine 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.
Maine 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 Small Estate Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property states that:
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 Maine offers is a simplified probate process for small estates, called "summary administration" (or "summary probate") in Maine. 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 Maine if the value of the entire estate, less liens and encumbrances (meaning after debts are subtracted), does not exceed the value of:
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.
If the estate qualifies, the executor or personal representative of the estate can use summary administration by taking the following steps:
If it's available to your estate, summary administration allows the executor or personal representative to distribute the property in the estate without having to jump through the hoops of regular probate.
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 Maine estate planning issues, see our section on Maine Estate Planning.