What Is a Small Estate?

In South Carolina, opening a small estate is a convenient alternative to opening a full estate. It’s a quick and cheap option available to some depending on the value of the decedent’s property that needs to be transferred. But when does an estate qualify for the small estate process?

"Small Estate" Qualifications

Thirty days must pass after the date of death before a small estate can be filed. At this time, the value of the entire probate estate, minus liens and encumbrances, must not exceed $25,000.00.

Almost any kind of property can be transferred via a small estate, except for real property. If the decedent held any real property in their name without the essential rights of survivorship language appearing in the deed, opening a full estate will be necessary to properly transfer the land.

The Benefits of the Small Estate Process

The small estate process, authorized by S.C. Code Section 62-3-1201, allows the person that paid funeral expenses on behalf of the estate to transfer and receive certain types of property belonging to the decedent.

The person that paid the funeral expenses is considered a creditor of the estate and is therefore entitled to reimbursement for the amount they paid. Any assets remaining after the reimbursement will be split according to the decedent’s Will or the laws of intestacy, whichever may apply.

Upon filing the proper form with the probate court along with proof the funeral expenses have been paid in full, the probate court will issue an order. This order will allow the payor of the funeral expenses and/or the heirs to collect the property of the decedent.

The entire procedure with the probate court is completed within a few days once the court issues its order, as opposed to the year or so it usually takes to administer a full estate.

How to Start the Process for a Small Estate

​The small estate process can eliminate most of the expense and frustration associated with the process of transferring the assets of a deceased loved one. If you think the procedure may be available to you, contact your county’s probate court.

Some counties require additional documentation before they will process a small estate. Use the required 30 day time period to locate all of the decedent’s property so that everything can be addressed and transferred at one time.