Maine 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.)
Maine 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.
The out-of-court affidavit procedure is available in Maine if the value of the entire estate, wherever located, less liens and encumbrances, does not exceed $20,000. There is a 30-day waiting period. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit.18-A, § § 3-1201, 1202.
Maine 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 (called the "summary administrative procedure") in Maine if the value of the entire estate, less liens and encumbrances, does not exceed homestead allowance, exempt property, family allowance, costs of administration, reasonable funeral expenses, and reasonable medical expenses of the last illness. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit.18-A, § 3-1203.
You'll need to prepare a closing statement that says the value was less than that stated above, you distributed the assets to the inheritors, and you gave a copy of the closing statement to all of the inheritors. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit.18-A, § 3-1204
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).