Local Lifestyle

Tips for handling small estates, and planning your own estate

by Deb Miller, WV Senior Legal Aid volunteer

The time had come for Joe to start what was needed to handle his sister Carrie’s estate. She had died a week earlier.

He had her will and thought her estate was likely to fit under the rules of the new small estate law in West Virginia at WV Code sec. 44-1A-1 et seq. This law authorizes a simpler administration of probate property when $50,000 or less of personal property and a maximum of $100,000 of real estate is owned by the decedent on the date of death. The small estate is charged lower probate fees, involves simpler procedures, and no closing report is needed.

Joe reviewed some information about the classifications of probate property and nonprobate property, broken down into real and personal property categories.

Carrie’s $4,000 checking account and the $350 he found in her apartment would count in the personal property of her probate estate.

Her savings account was just over $3,000, and she had included a “payable on death” beneficiary of her daughter on the account.

That $3,000 would not be included in the personal property list in her probate estate because having the account beneficiary made it a nonprobate asset. Talking with the bank would be the next step to claim those funds.

Carrie owned no car or real estate. If she had owned real estate solely in her own name, its probate estate value would be calculated as 167% of the property’s current assessed value on the county land books, as shown on the current property tax ticket

She had one retirement account now worth $35,000. Carrie had named her daughter and Joe as the beneficiaries, so that made it a nonprobate asset. It was part of her estate but would not count in the probate assets.

Joe estimated her other personal property, such as furniture, jewelry, and clothing to be worth about $7,500. Fortunately she had no debts for the estate to pay off other than the final month’s utilities and a low amount on her credit card.

He also checked the West Virginia Treasurer’s unclaimed property website at https://wv.findyourunclaimedproperty.com/app/claim-search. Carrie did have an entry of $385 that he could make a claim for. It would be included in her probate estate.

Joe totaled the probate assets at $12,235 (checking account, cash, unclaimed property, and furniture, etc.) and checked Carrie’s will to see who would receive what, including a $2000 gift for her church.

He called the county clerk’s office for an appointment to bring in the will to start the probate process, but learned that he was too early. Because it was a small estate, he had to wait until 30 days after her death.

Joe set up an appointment for that date and was pleased that the Affidavit for Small Estate form to list the probate assets and estate beneficiaries would be mailed to him to fill out.

If Carrie had not done her will, distributions from the probate estate to family members would be controlled by the intestacy laws at West Virginia Code sec. 42-1-3 and -3A.

Plan to simplify

Planning ahead, Jana could tell her own (future) estate would likely be a small one. She wanted to simplify things by adding a death beneficiary on all of her financial accounts. That would mean they would be nonprobate assets when the time came and would not need to be handled through the probate process.

Also, the future claim for her retirement account and life insurance could likely be handled online once the beneficiaries had a certified death certificate. Jana didn’t own real estate, making things simpler.

Putting a “payable on death” beneficiary on checking and savings accounts would expedite the after-death transfer of funds. She didn’t want to add anyone as a co-owner currently because that would allow them to use her funds before she died.

Questions about estates?

Questions about estate issues and other legal issues that state residents age 60 and over need answers for can be addressed through the West Virginia Senior Legal Aid hotline at 800-229-5068. The staff attorney will provide free assistance.