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Summary vs. Formal Probate: What’s the Difference?

3 min read
Philip Ahn, Attorney

by Philip Ahn, Attorney

Summary administration and formal administration probate are two distinct types of probate processes in the probate court system.

Summary administration is typically used to settle small estates with fewer probatable assets, while formal administration is for larger estates with more complex financial affairs or real property.

Summary probate is a quicker and more cost-effective option in which the court requires less documentation. Formal probate involves appointing a personal representative and negotiating claims. Choosing the right administration type depends on the decedent’s estate size and the informed choice of the decedent’s rightful beneficiaries.

Summary Probate

Summary probate – also called simplified probate or summary administration – is suitable for a smaller estate, often with limited decedent’s assets and personal property. It’s a streamlined method of winding down an estate with standardized rules and less paperwork.

Most states, but not all, allow summary probate. Typically estates must be below a certain dollar amount to be eligible for the simplified probate process. For example, in New York, estates with less than $50,000 in assets qualify. In Florida, estates up to $75,000 qualify, or the decedent will need to have passed away over two years ago.

In some states, a formal probate process may still be necessary if the estate owes a significant amount to creditors.

In summary probate, a surviving spouse or other undisputed heir can gain access to the deceased’s assets by informing the court. This will not exempt the heir from owing taxes, nor will it automatically head off any future claims against the estate.

Financial institutions and banking institutions may accept letters of administration, in which the beneficiary gains access to the deceased’s accounts, more readily under summary administration. In cases where the decedent died with survivorship provisions or joint tenants, summary administration can expedite the transfer of bank accounts and expenses.

Formal Probate

Formal probate is a comprehensive legal process that handles the distribution of a decedent’s assets, especially when complexities are involved.

To initiate formal probate, one must obtain letters of administration to manage the estate securely. While this process may incur translation costs and additional fees, it provides a structured and legally sound framework for addressing all aspects of the estate, including any payable-on-death provisions. Formal probate is typically necessary when dealing with larger estates or when there are other assets that the decedent left behind.

In formal probate, personal representatives will be appointed for the estate. They’re legally bound to properly oversee asset distribution, making it suitable for more complex cases. They are needed to oversee the distribution of assets within the deceased person’s estate, including bank accounts and ongoing asset maintenance.

Legal Advice on Summary vs. Formal Probate

When navigating the complexities of probate, legal advice can prevent costly mistakes, especially when weighing whether to push for summary and formal administration.

An attorney can guide you through the process, ensuring that letters of administration are obtained to manage a deceased person’s affairs effectively. Unbundled Legal Help can connect you with a local attorney who will give you the choice between lower-cost “unbundled” support for specific tasks surrounding the probate process, or full representation. Schedule a free consultation to discuss your probate case with an attorney.

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