South Carolina 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.)
South Carolina 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 South Carolina if the value of property passing by will or under law, less liens and encumbrances, is $25,000 or less. A probate judge must approve the affidavit. There is a 30-day waiting period. The affidavit must be filed in the county probate court where the deceased person lived. S.C. Code Ann. § 62-3-1201.
South Carolina 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 South Carolina if the value of property passing by will or under state law, less liens and encumbrances, is $25,000 or less (not counting exempt property, costs of administration, funeral expenses, and medical expenses of last illness). This option is also available if the executor is the sole beneficiary in the deceased person's will.
The executor must publish a notice to in a newspaper published in the county once a week for three weeks in a row that notifies creditors that they must present claims within eight months from the date of the first publication or their claim will be barred. The executor can distribute assets to the inheritors. S.C. Code Ann. § 62-3-1203.
The executor must also file a statement with the court that says that says the value of the estate is less than that described above or that the executor is the sole beneficiary and that he or she distributed the assets to the inheritors, sent a copy of this statement to the inheritors and known creditors, and gave a full accounting to the inheritors. S.C. Code Ann. § 62-3-1204.
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).