topic | opening probate

Step: determine summary procedure qualification for small estates

Simplified or summary probate is a faster version of regular probate and is available in most states. Ownership of real estate in the domicile state does not rule out the use of the summary procedure. However, it does involve more court supervision than the affidavit procedure.

Restrictions may include:

  • a waiting period after death
  • an upper limit on estate value

State rules governing summary probate vary. Contact your county probate court for specifics and exact procedures and to determine whether the estate qualifies for summary probate procedures. They will provide instruction on how to continue. While a court clerk may provide general assistance, an estate attorney may also be useful.

The court may require:

  • a published notice of death in the newspaper
  • written notification to creditors and heirs
  • allocation of assets by the court (if there is no Will)

Steps 3 and 4 of the Topic: Gather Information and Make Notifications contain more information on these items.

Will state specific restrictions prevent the use of summary procedures?

Activity 1
Gather Information. List personal, household, and medical accounts.

Personal accounts include anything related directly to the deceased such as health club memberships and subscriptions. Household accounts may include utilities, home services, phone, cable television, and Internet subscriptions. Medical accounts may include a primary care physician, dentist, eye doctor, pharmacy, and insurance carriers.

Compile a list of accounts. Accounts, Deposits Deductions, and Dues Subscriptions may contain helpful information. If not, use these forms as a guide. Try to find the following information for each account:

  • name of account
  • contact information for account
  • name on the account
  • account number

Obtain copies of the death certificate

Activity 2
Notify and cancel personal, household and medical accounts

Contact critical accounts first. Attend to accounts with overdue balances quickly. Request and verify the following information for each account:

  • exact name on the account
  • account number
  • balance and due date
  • payment method (check, debit, direct deposit)
  • passwords for online accounts

Request written verification of:

  • account balances
  • closure of the accounts
  • any name changes on accounts

If an account cannot be closed because outstanding balance could not be paid, request that this account be frozen.

Ask for a refund if an account has been prepaid. Examples can include newspaper subscriptions paid through the end of the year or insurance premiums paid quarterly.

Determine if an account balance can be cancelled.

  • If estate funds are small or non-existent, the account will probably not be paid.
  • If the balance due is low, creditors may be willing to close the account without payment.

Notify all organizations associated with the decedent to help prevent identity theft, reduce junk mail, and improve peace of mind.

Register the decedent with the Direct Marketing Association which has a “Deceased Do Not Contact” list at This should stop direct marketing mail.

If possible change the name on accounts to the surviving spouse's name. If not, close the account and open a new account.

(if this Step is complete)
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