How do I open a small estate?
General InformationFor people who died after April 26, 2001, and had assets with a total value of $40,000.00 or less,* a small estate proceeding may be opened to appoint a personal representative, pay claims, and make distribution of estate assets. Small estate proceedings are handled more quickly by the Court and generally take no more than 120 days from the date of filing of the Petition for Administration of Small Estate to the issuance of the final order. Small estate specialists are available in the Legal Branch of the Probate Division to assist with filing small estates. Please collect all the items listed below; then bring them to Room 314 on the third floor at 515 5th Street, NW, to file. If you have questions about small estates that are not answered on this website, contact Live Chat or call 202-879-9460.
- * If the person died between July 1, 1995, and April 26, 2001, the value of the estate must be $15,000.00 or less to qualify as a small estate. If the person died between January 1, 1981, and June 30, 1995, the value of the estate must be $10,000 or less.
Items Needed to Open a Small Estate
- Petition for Administration of Small Estate
- Decedent’s will (if any) and Certificate of Filing Will
- Photo identification of the petitioner(s) with signature
- Death certificate
- Funeral bill(s) and receipts for funeral or cremation
- Written list of all assets that the decedent owned or co-owned at death:
All real estate, including real estate located outside the District of Columbia, with the property tax assessed value for the year in which the decedent died.
Current statement(s) for bank and credit union accounts, stocks, bonds, and retirement accounts.
Automobile title (preferable) or registration card and written confirmation of the value of the vehicle. A quote from an on-line source regarding trade-in value is acceptable.
Uncashed checks payable to the decedent.
Letter from the District of Columbia Unclaimed Property Unit (202-442-8181) with value stated.
- Names and addresses of heirs-at-law/next of kin and if there is a will, the names and addresses for all legatees named in the will including apartment numbers and zip codes.
- Court Costs: Check or money order payable to "Register of Wills" or cash. The cost depends on the value of the assets:
$0.01 - $499.99.....no cost
$500.00 - $2,500.00.....$15.00
$2,500.01 - $15,000.00.....$50.00
$15,000.01 - $25,000.00.....$100.00
$25,000.01 - $40,000.00.....$150.00
- Publication Costs: Check or money order payable to the newspaper.
Filing the Petition
- The small estate specialist will review the Petition for Administration of Small Estate that is being presented for filing to ensure that it complies with the law. The specialist will also determine whether the documents verifying the assets and debts are sufficient, whether more information is needed before the Court can act on the petition, and whether publication is required. If the information is not complete, the petition will not be accepted for filing and will be returned with a list of the missing information.
- Publication is needed if the value of the estate’s assets (real estate and personal property) is more than $1,500.00 unless (1) the heir is the decedent’s spouse or a minor child (under the age of 18) or (2) the heir is the decedent’s adult child and the estate’s assets are under $11,500.00.
- After the petition is accepted for filing, the small estate specialist will prepare an order for the judge’s signature. In most cases, the order will appoint a personal representative. The order may be a preliminary order, directing that notice to potential creditors be published or that the personal representative file a Verification of Assets, or it may be a final order, specifying who is entitled to receive the assets of the estate and what amounts each individual will receive. The order may include a specific time period within which additional items must be filed, and a provision stating that the small estate proceeding will be dismissed if the items are not filed within the time period specified.
- If publication is required by the Court’s order, the Probate Division will send the Notice of Appointment, Notice to Creditors and Notice to Unknown Heirs form to a newspaper of general circulation selected by the personal representative. The cost of publication is determined by the current rates charged by the newspaper and is paid in advance by the filer. The notice states that the estate is being administered as a small estate, announces the name of the personal representative, and gives creditors and unknown heirs 30 days to file claims against the estate or to object to the appointment of the personal representative. The notice is published only once. The notice is mailed to all interested persons and to known creditors by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested. The personal representative must make diligent efforts to locate each creditor. After the publication occurs and payment is made, the newspaper will issue a proof of publication, which is filed with the small estate specialist in the Legal Branch of the Probate Division.
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Role and Duties of the Personal RepresentativeThe personal representative has an important role and is responsible for ensuring that all assets are collected, all debts are paid, and distributions of estate assets are made promptly as the Court directs in its final order. Very often, the person appointed by the Court is one of the closest living relatives of the decedent. The decedent's assets must be held separately from those of the personal representative, and the personal representative must keep accurate records of all estate expenses and payments.
Closing the EstateA final order signed by the Court will close the estate. The order gives directions to the personal representative concerning the collection of estate property, the payment of debts, and the distribution of the remaining estate assets to heirs or legatees. Distribution must occur promptly after the final order is issued by the Court.
CompensationPersons, including attorneys, appointed to be personal representatives in small estates are not entitled to be paid a commission for acting as personal representatives. Attorneys for personal representatives in small estates can receive up to $1,000.00 in accordance with D.C. Code, sec. 20-906(a)(3), depending on the size of the estate and priority payments.
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