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District of Columbia Courts

Small Estates (SEB) FAQs

Definition - What is a small estate?

A small estate proceeding may be opened for people who died after April 26, 2001, and had assets with a total value of $40,000.00 or less. If the person died between January 1, 1981, and June 30, 1995, the value of the estate must be $10,000 or less to qualify as a small estate. If the person died between July 1, 1995, and April 26, 2001, the value must be $15,000 or less to qualify.

Definition - What is the difference between a small estate and a large estate?

Generally, the type and amount of assets - the assets of a small estate are $40,000.00 or less for people who died after April 26, 2001. A large estate can be opened for an estate of any value.

Getting Started - Am I entitled to be paid for serving as personal representative?

Persons, including attorneys, appointed to be personal representatives in small estates are not entitled to be paid for acting as personal representatives. Attorneys for personal representatives in small estates can receive up to $1,000.00 depending on the size of the estate and other payments approved by the Court in the final order.

Getting Started - Can a small estate be opened for real estate located outside the District of Columbia?

Yes, a small estate may be opened when the decedent’s assets include real estate located outside the District of Columbia. Publication will be required in such a case.

Getting Started - Can a small estate be opened for the purposes of obtaining medical records?

No. However, a large estate may be opened when it is necessary to obtain medical records for any purpose including potential litigation.

Getting Started - Can petitions for a small estate be mailed?

It is recommended that the petition be filed in person so that any questions may be resolved immediately and the petition will be processed more efficiently. If you do not live in the Washington DC metropolitan area or cannot file in person for any other reason, the petition, filing fee, and required attachments may be mailed to Probate Division, DC Superior Court, 515 5th Street, NW, 3rd Floor, Washington, DC 20001.

Getting Started - Do I need to open an estate if I am a member of the decedent’s family?

Yes if the decedent owned an asset that needs to be transferred. According to the law in the District of Columbia, only a Court-appointed personal representative has authority over any assets that were solely owned by a person who is now deceased when there is no beneficiary or payable on death designation. The Court-appointed personal representative will collect the decedent’s assets and make distribution in accordance with the final order that the Court will issue.

Getting Started - How many times will I need to meet with a small estate specialist?

As a general rule, if the paperwork that is submitted for filing is complete, only one time. If the paperwork is incomplete or more supporting documents are required, more meetings may be necessary.

Getting Started - I am estranged from my other family members and do not know their addresses. What do I do?

Identify your family members by name, and indicate that you do not know where they live. If you are petitioning for appointment as personal representative, but you do not have priority to serve, you must file a sworn statement as to your efforts to locate the persons who have priority to serve.

Getting Started - I am the only person who helped the decedent; can I open the estate?

The nominated personal representative in a will or, if the decedent died without a will, an heir with the highest priority to serve as personal representative may file a petition to open a small estate proceeding. The estate procedure is always easier and faster if the person with highest priority to serve files the petition to open the small estate. The order of priority is listed below.

If you are not an heir of the decedent, you may open a small estate if an heir having the highest priority co-petitions with you. Note that consents and renunciations signed by the other heirs must be filed.

If you are an heir of the decedent, but other heirs have priority over you, you may file a petition to open a small estate if you have renunciations from the heirs with higher priority.

A creditor of the estate may also open a small estate by filing a petition for standard probate.

Getting Started - I do not have access to a typewriter or computer. Can the forms be handwritten?

The Superior Court’s rules require that the forms be typed. However, waiver of the rule may be requested, and the petition for small estate proceeding may then be handwritten, if legible. The Notice of Appointment, Notice to Creditors and Notice to Unknown Heirs must be typed. Typewriters are available for this purpose at the Probate Division, 515 5th Street, NW, 3rd Floor, Washington, DC

Getting Started - If I want to become the owner of an insurance policy to continue to pay the premiums for the insured person because the owner of the policy has died, what should I do?

Contact the insurance company to determine its procedure for assuming the policy owned by a deceased person. An estate may need to be opened if the insurance policy is being cashed and the proceeds paid to the decedent’s estate.

Getting Started - Is an attorney required to administer a small estate?

No, unless you would like to hire an attorney to assist you. Small estate petitions are fairly simple to complete. Small estate specialists are available in the Legal Branch of the Probate Division to answer any questions remaining when the petitions are filed.

Getting Started - What does it mean to have priority to serve as personal representative?

The District of Columbia Code (DC Code, sec. 20-303) defines who has the highest priority to serve as a personal representative of an estate. If you are not the person with the highest priority to serve, seeking appointment will be more difficult. Priority to serve is as follows:

1. The personal representative named in the decedent’s will if there is a will
2. If the person dies without a will, the surviving spouse, domestic partner, or children If the person dies with a will, the surviving spouse or domestic partner
3. The residuary legatee in the decedent’s will
4. The children of a person who died with a will
5. The grandchildren of the decedent
6. The parents of a decedent
7. The brothers and sisters of the decedent
8. The next of kin of the decedent
9. Other relations of the decedent
10. The largest creditor of the decedent who applies for administration
11. Any other person.

If the person who has priority to serve as personal representative does not wish to do so, the person can sign and file a renunciation and, if the person so chooses, consent in writing to the appointment of someone else. However, small estates tend to be processed more quickly and smoothly if the person who has priority to serve does serve.

Getting Started - What expenses are eligible for reimbursement from the assets of the small estate?

The expenses that are eligible for reimbursement are Court costs, publication costs, administrative costs, and/or statutory funeral costs.

Getting Started - Why does the designated beneficiary of insurance proceeds receive funeral reimbursement when it was not their personal funds that paid the bill?

The beneficiary of an insurance policy is entitled to keep the proceeds of the policy and is not obligated to spend the money on the decedent’s funeral. Because the law allows repayment of the first $1,500.00 of funeral expenses as a priority distribution, the insurance beneficiary is entitled to be repaid for up to $1,500.00 of funeral costs.

Getting Started - Why is it necessary to open an estate when the only asset is a car?

It is necessary to open an estate because since June 2006, the District of Columbia government has required a Court order to transfer title to motor vehicles solely owned by a decedent.

Getting Started - Why is it necessary to present a funeral bill when the bill has already been paid?

A funeral bill must be submitted because it is a reimbursable expense of administration. The person who paid the bill may receive a refund of some or all of that payment from the assets of the estate.

Getting Started - Why is written verification of assets required?

A written Verification of Assets is required because it confirms an asset’s value and type and confirms for the Court that the case is within the jurisdictional limits of a small estate. All assets are included in the final order, and the amount of the asset must be exact to the penny or the distributions included in the final order will be incorrect.

Other Questions - What do I do if I discover more assets after the Court has issued a final order?

If assets are discovered after a final order has issued, a supplemental petition for small estate proceeding and written verification of those newly found assets must be filed. If the amount discovered increases the estate assets over $40,000.00, then a petition for probate for a large estate must be filed.

Other Questions - What documents need to be verified to be filed in the Probate Division?

The following pleadings must be verified to be filed in the Probate Division:

1. All Petitions - SCR-PD 2(b) and 3
2. Complaints filed in Probate Matters - SCR-PD 107(a), and 208(a)
3. Accounts - DC Code 20-721
4. Inventories - DC Code 20-711
5. Guardian Reports - SCR-PD 328
6. Assignments - SCR-PD 120 and 420
7. Claims - DC Code 20-905(a)
8. Affidavits of Mailing and Non-Mailing in Standard Probate - SCR-PD 403(a)(8)
9. Any Affidavit - SCR-CIV 9
10. Verification and Certificate of Notice - SCR-PD 403(b)(3)
11. Certificate of Completion - SCR-PD 426

According to Superior Court, Probate Division Rule Civil 11, no other pleadings need be verified. Accordingly, motions, answers, responses and oppositions do not need to be verified.

Serving as Personal Representative of a small estate - Are letters of administration issued in small estates?

No. The final order issued by the Court will specifically identify the assets, authorize release to the personal representative, and direct how distribution is to be made.

Serving as Personal Representative of a small estate - How long is the small estate process?

Depending on the circumstances, a final order generally issues within 120 days of the filing of a Petition for Administration of Small Estate. If publication is not required and sufficient documentation is filed to verify the amount of the assets of the estate, a final order generally issues within two weeks.

Serving as Personal Representative of a small estate - Why is it necessary to publish notices in a small estate case?

The law requires publication to notify potential creditors when the estate’s assets (real estate and personal property) exceed $1,500.00. However, publication is not required if the heir is the decedent’s spouse or a minor child (under the age of 18) or if the heir is the decedent’s adult child and the estate’s assets are under $11,500.00.