The probate process can be long and drawn-out, costing your survivors time as well as money. Fortunately, West Virginia offers a probate shortcut for "small estates." If the property you leave behind at your death is below a certain amount, your loved ones can use a procedure called "administration of a small estate upon affidavit" to transfer your property more quickly and with less hassle.
You can use a small estate proceeding in West Virginia if:
Note that even if you own more than $50,000 worth of assets (or $100,000 worth of real estate), your survivors may still be able to take advantage of the small estate procedure. That's because certain types of property aren't subject to probate, and therefore don't count. These types of property include:
So even relatively large estates might still qualify as a "small estate" for purposes of small estate administration.
To use West Virginia's small estate procedure, you'll first need to file an Affidavit of Small Estate (here's a sample). This affidavit includes:
After signing the document (and swearing to its truthfulness) and having it notarized, the inheritor turns it in to the county clerk. If there's a will, it will need to be attached, and often a certified copy of the death certificate is required as well. Once the affidavit is authorized, the county clerk files it in the same way as a will.
The inheritor can then present the authorized affidavit directly 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.
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 West Virginia estate planning issues, see our section on West Virginia Estate Planning.