Probate for Small AS EstatesShow Table of Contents
Probate is not required for small estates in American Samoa, allowing executors to save considerable effort and cost.
Transferal of Personal Property Requirements
In American Samoa, an estate can use the small estate process if its probate value is <$10,000 and it is solvent (i.e., its assets are worth at least as much as its debts).
In calculating estate value, you should value assets as of the date of death, and ignore any debts (other than secured debt such as liens and mortgages). Do not include assets that would not normally go through probate, such as community property with rights of survivorship, assets with named beneficiaries (e.g., 401Ks, life insurance policies), and other standard probate exclusions.
If the estate meets the requirements above, you can simplify the probate process as follows:
- Submit to the Trial Division of the High Court a Petition for Transferal of Personal Property to Person Entitled to Letters of Administration (see American Samoa Legal Aid Forms for additional items you may want to attach to your petition)
- Upon approval, the court will issue an order directing the transfer of the property and th,e payment of any debts
- Use the court order to obtain estate assets from current custodians, then settle the estate in the normal manner (pay all obligations, distribute assets)
Hint: It is not necessary to submit a petition for transferal — if you can convince current custodians of estate assets to give you possession. Of course, you still need to pay debts and distribute assets to the appropriate recipients.
Estate Settlement Considerations
Before paying any debts or making any distributions, be sure to account for any AS Family Entitlements, which typically have priority over everything except expenses of the last illness, funeral charges, and any estate administrations expenses.
Estate debts have priority over most distributions in turn, so you should arrange to have all debts resolved before distributing assets. Unpaid estate creditors have the right to sue heirs for the value of any distributions received using the approaches described on this page.
Personal representatives (i.e., executors) using this small estate process are not entitled to compensation, but any reasonable expenses should be reimbursed.
If estate solvency is uncertain, an executor should consider going through official probate for the increased creditor protection it offers. Alternately, such uncertainty can sometimes persuade creditors to forgive a portion of debts, since they will want to avoid legal expenses as well, and may prefer to get something rather than nothing.
See also Making Distributions.
No Small Estate Affidavit
Many people ask about using a small estate affidavit without any court involvement, but AS does not support such an affidavit. You must use above method (or full probate) for handling small estates in AS.
In American Samoa, the High Court in Pago Pago handles wills and estate matters.
See A.S.C.A. § 40.0334 for statute details.
See also General Probate.