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Navigating Probate in South Carolina

  • As an attorney in Summerville, South Carolina, I help clients untangle the process of probate. This includes proving a will's validity if it exists, appointing an administrator for the decedent's estate if no will exists, appraising property, paying debts, and distributing remaining property according to the will or state law. It can be an arduous process, requiring fees and taking anywhere from a few months to a year, but there are ways to simplify and avoid probate based on the size of a person's estate.

    In South Carolina, there are several ways to streamline or avoid the probate process. If the value of the deceased person's estate totals less than $25,000 after debts are paid, the executor or personal representative of the estate may file a request with the local probate court to use a simplified probate process. If granted, this allows the executor to distribute the willed or intestate assets without further administrative procedures.

    Similarly, if the estate totals less than $10,000, inheritors may skip probate altogether and collect property using an affidavit. According to this "small estate" law, beginning 30 days after the decedent's death, an inheritor may present an affidavit stating his/her entitlement to a certain asset. Once reviewed and approved by a probate judge, this affidavit may be presented together with a copy of the death certificate as grounds to release the asset in question.

    Some assets are inherently exempt from probate. While real and personal property (including cars, objects, bank accounts, and certain business interests) held solely in the name of the deceased person are considered probate assets, the following are considered non-probate assets:

    -Jointly owned property
    -Jointly held bank accounts
    -Bank accounts with payable-on-death beneficiaries
    -Life insurance policies that list a beneficiary who is not the deceased and not the estate
    -Retirement accounts, such as 401s or IRAs, with designated beneficiaries
    -Living trusts (unless the assets left outside of the trust add up to more than the small estate limit)

    If you are currently navigating the probate process and/or would like to establish a living will in South Carolina, contact the Watts Law Firm a call today to schedule a consultation.