The probate process can be long and drawn-out, costing your survivors time as well as money. Fortunately, Utah offers a few probate shortcuts for "small estates." If the property you leave behind at your death is below a certain amount, Utah 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.
Utah 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, your inheritor can sign a simple document called an Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property in a Small Estate Proceeding. (Here's a sample.) This document makes several statements, including that the estate meets the requirements set out above. It also lists the property being claimed.
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 releases the asset. This process skips probate court entirely.
Another probate shortcut that Utah offers is a simplified probate process for small estates, called summary administration. Unlike the affidavit procedure discussed above, summary administration does not allow your survivors to skip probate. However, the probate process is more streamlined than full probate, saving some time, probate fees, and potentially lawyer fees.
You can use summary administration in Utah if it appears that the value of the entire estate, less liens and encumbrances (meaning after debts are subtracted), does not exceed the sum of:
(Utah Code Ann. § 75-3-1203 and following.) 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.
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.
Using summary administration has one significant benefit over regular probate: you don't need to give notice to creditors or wait for several months for any creditor claims to come in. As a result, probate is faster and often less expensive.
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).
For more on Utah estate planning issues, see our section on Utah Estate Planning.