Probate for Small VI Estates

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Courthouse for estate probate

In the US Virgin Islands, estates can avoid full probate by settlement without administration (or via summary administration if the estate is worth <$300).

Settlement without Administration

If a US Virgin Islands estate has no debts, or the heirs agree to pay all debts (presumably with estate proceeds), then you can considerably reduce the effort of estate probate via settlement without administration.

Preliminary Steps if There is a Will

Intestate estate can skip directly to Settlement Process below, but if there is a will, you must first:

  1. Submit to the court a Petition for Probate of Will and for Letters Testamentary (see Rule 3 in Virgin Islands Rules for Probate and Fiduciary Proceedings)
  2. If the estate contains property requiring an appraisal, submit a request within 14 days after appointment as personal representative for appointment of 2 disinterested and competent appraisers, with affidavits attached from the appraisers indicating that they will honestly and impartially appraise the property exhibited to them according to the best of their knowledge and ability. Upon court approval, provide an estate inventory to the appraisers, who must return their appraisals within 30 days of appointment.
  3. Submit an estate inventory of assets and debts to the court (consider using an EstateExec Inventory Report)
  4. Now proceed to Settlement Process below

Settlement Process

Prepare a Petition for Settlement Without Administration that states:

  • The name and residence of the deceased
  • The date of death (attach a death certificate when available and procurable)
  • The names and capacities of the heirs
  • That there are no debts, or that the heirs choose to assume and pay any such debts
  • That the heirs accept the estate purely, simply and unconditionally, making the petitioners and the property of decedent responsible for any debts that may be owing by the decedent
  • The proportion due each heir

The petition shall end with a prayer that the heirs be recognized as the legal heirs of the deceased and be placed in full possession of the decedent's estate, real and personal.

Sign the petition, and have two witnesses sign that they watched you sign the petition.

Attach an inventory of estate assets and debts, stating the fair value of each item at the time of death (consider using an EstateExec Inventory Report), and have the inventory signed by 2 responsible persons.

Once you have prepared the petition:

  1. Submit the petition to the United States attorney, who will approve the petition in the margin, and certify the amount of inheritance tax to be paid to the Territory
  2. Publish a Notice to Creditors in a newspaper of general circulation in VI, once a week for 4 weeks
  3. Submit the Petition for Settlement Without Administration to the court, along with payment for the inheritance tax
  4. Upon approval, the court will issue a judgment placing title to the identified property in the hands of the identified heirs
  5. Use this judgment to collect assets from current custodians, then settle the estate in the normal way (pay debts, distribute remaining assets)

See 15 V.I.C. § 191 et seq.

Summary Administration

If the estate is worth <$300, you can further simplify the process. Follow all the steps for Settlement without Administration (see above), but:

  • You do not need court approval to retain the services of the any required appraisers
  • When you publish the Notice to Creditors, you only need to do it for 2 weeks, and that notice should say that creditors have only 30 days to file any claims
  • After the 30-day creditor notice period has expired, file an accounting with the court that shows estate administration expenses, and a proposed plan for disbursing estate assets.
  • Once the court approves your plan, disburse estate assets accordingly.

See 15 V.I.C. § 167, and Rule 22 in Virgin Islands Rules for Probate and Fiduciary Proceedings.

No Small Estate Affidavit

Many people ask about using a small estate affidavit without any court involvement, but VI does not support such an affidavit. You must use one of the above methods (or full probate) for handling small estates in VI.

Estate Settlement Considerations

Before paying any debts or making any distributions, be sure to account for any VI 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.

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.

Court

In the Virgin Islands, the Probate Division of the Superior Court handles wills and estate matters.

See also General Probate.

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