Alabama Small Estate Summary Distribution: An Overview

It’s not uncommon for individuals to have pared-down the assets that comprise their estate as they get into older age. Many times, people will sell their homes and live in a rental, they may have also sold their vehicle if they no longer drive, and they also may have reduced their personal belongings significantly by making lifetime gifts of certain items to their loved ones. This ultimately leaves the individual with what may qualify in Alabama as a “small estate”. 

The Alabama Small Estates Act was passed in 1979 and amended in 2009. The Act provides a method, through a court proceeding, to distribute personal property only of a deceased person in a summary distribution manner to a surviving spouse, or appropriate distributees of the decedent, without having to go through the full probate administration process. This usually means that a small estate can be in and out of the probate court in as little as 30 days, as opposed to 6-12 months (or longer for complex estates). 

The requirements to use this process depend on what is in the estate and its value, but no real property (homes/land) can be passed by summary distribution, and the personal property has to be of limited value. Every March the permitted value to use summary distribution is published by the State Finance Director based on the Consumer Price Index. As of March 1, 2023, the value of the estate cannot exceed $34,611 (up $2,564 from the 2022 limit of $32,047).

Often, this process is used for small estates where someone leaves a bank account with no joint owner and no payable on death designation.  If the person had a will, it is included in the filing to control to whom the property will be distributed, and if he or she did not have a will, the property will pass by intestate succession.

To learn more about small estates and the probate process in Alabama, call our office for a consultation. (251) 621-1555

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