Probate for Small SC Estates

Show Table of Contents
Courthouse for estate probate

In South Carolina, small estates can completely bypass probate via small estate affidavit, or simplify it via summary administration.

Small Estate Affidavit

If the gross value of a South Carolina estate is worth <$25,000, you can use the small estate process to settle an estate with minimal court involvement.

Requirements

To use the small estate process, the following conditions must be true:

  • The estate has a gross value <$25K
  • At least 30 days have passed since the death
  • No petition has already been made to the court to officially appoint a personal representative

In determining the gross value of the estate, you should value assets as of the date of death, and ignore any unsecured debts. Do not include any 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.

Process

To use the small estate process:

  1. Prepare a Small Estate Affidavit (Form 420ES)
  2. Attach the will (if one exists) and a copy of the death certificate
  3. Submit the notarized affidavit to the court (see below)
  4. Upon approval, the court will certify the affidavit
  5. Obtain possession of estate assets by presenting the affidavit to current custodians (this affidavit cannot be used to collect real estate)
  6. Settle the estate in the normal way, following the settlement priorities below

See SC Code § 62-3-1201.

Summary Administration

Summary Administration (also known as simplified probate) can be used for larger estates, or if you simply want court involvement so that enforcement and protection are a bit more formalized.

Requirements

You can use summary administration (also known as simplified probate) if:

  • You are the sole inheritor of the estate

Or if it appears that the value of the entire estate does not exceed the sum of

  • $25,000, plus
  • Family entitlements (other than a spousal elective share)
  • Estate administration expenses and reasonable funeral expenses
  • Reasonable and necessary medical, hospital, and nursing home expenses for the last year of life

In determining the value of the estate, you should value assets as of the date of death. Ignore any unsecured debts (such as credit cards), but do account for secured debts such as mortgages (i.e., if a house is worth $150K and has a $130K mortgage, the house would contribute $20K to the estate value). Do not include any 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.

Process

To settle an estate via summary administration:

  1. Submit an Application for Informal Appointment (Form 300ES) to the court
  2. Publish a notice to creditors in a newspaper of general circulation in the county announcing your appointment and notifying creditors to present claims within 8 months
  3. Collect and distribute the assets according to the settlement priorities listed below
  4. File a Closing Statement (Form 421ES) with the court

See SC Code § 62-3-1203.

Settlement Priority

When settling an estate, you must allocate estate assets in the following priority order:

  1. Estate administration expenses and reasonable funeral expenses
  2. Family entitlements (other than a spousal elective share)
  3. Federal taxes
  4. Reasonable and necessary medical, hospital, and nursing home expenses for the last year of life
  5. State taxes
  6. All other debts
  7. Distributions to heirs

See SC Code § 62-3-805.

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 Resolving Debts and Making Distributions.

Court

In South Carolina, the county Probate Court handles wills and estate matters.

See also General Probate.

Copyright © 2014-24 EstateExec