What Happens To My Estate When I Die? (Do I Even Have One?)
Updated: Mar 31
Everyone has an estate when they die, regardless of wealth. An estate is anything tangible and intangible that you have an ownership interest in. It begins with the clothes on your back and builds from there. Don’t worry, you won’t feel a thing.
An estate is administered over the course of the year after death. If there is a will in place, the original must be filed with the Register of Wills within 10 days of death. Then a determination is made whether the estate is “probateable” or not. This determination is made whether there is a will involved or not.
Probate is the formal court process for administering the estate through the court system. The court is the “Register of Wills”. In Delaware, probate is mandatory if (1) the decedent owned Delaware real estate in their individual name, or; (2) if solely owned financial and tangible property assets had a total value of $30,000 or more and there is no applicable beneficiary designation. These are known as “probate assets” because they trigger the probate process. The probate process lasts approximately a year and a fee, payable to the Register of Wills, of 1.75% is applied against financial-like assets. The person in charge of administering the estate typically hires an attorney to represent them.
In Delaware, if the estate is not “probateable” then it is classified as a “small estate”.A small estate has no solely owned real estate and solely owned financial-like assets have a value of less than $30,000. Even so, a fiduciary is needed to administer the estate (wrap it up). If there is a will or trust, the fiduciary is known as the executor or trustee. If there is no named fiduciary, then typically a relative applies to the Register of Wills to be appointed the “administrator of the estate”. The fiduciary’s authority is created by signing a “small estate affidavit”. The affidavit empowers the fiduciary to gain control of the assets and distribute them to the beneficiaries. The affidavit is available through an attorney or the Register of Wills office.