Legal Questions When a Deceased Relative Didn't Have an Estate
What Is an Estate?
- When a person dies, the property that person owned individually is known as the person's estate. However, not all property the person owned is considered part of the estate. For example, a home the family member owned jointly with someone else does not qualify. An estate also includes all the debts a person had at the time of death that have yet to be paid. Typically, estates have to pass through the state's probate process before new owners can inherit the estate property.
Do I Still Need To Go Through Probate If There Is No Estate?
- If a family member dies without leaving behind estate property, either assets or debts, you may not have to go through the probate process. The Oregon State Bar, for example, reports that if a person dies leaving behind only a few personal belongings or goods, the rightful beneficiaries can take this property without having to go through the probate process.
Who Receives Personal Property?
- If there is no estate, there is no property to receive. However, it is very rare for a person to die leaving behind nothing at all. If a person left behind a last will and testament, anyone with a copy of the will has to bring it before the probate court in the county where the family member lived so the court can determine whether the will is valid. If there is no will, your state has laws that predetermine who receives the property.
Can I Still File a Will If There Is No Estate?
- If a family member dies leaving behind a will but nothing to leave to heirs, the family may still file the will with the probate court. For example, the County Surrogate in Mercer County, New Jersey, reports that a family can enter a will into probate for a $4.00 filing fee. Unlike opening a probate case before the court, the New Jersey Surrogate's Court does not assign the will a docket number and does not enter it into the public record.