Probating a Small Estate in Hawaii

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

Probating a Small Estate in Hawaii

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

When a Hawaii resident or nonresident who owns property in the state dies, the estate may need to go through a probate court proceeding before the personal representative can administer and distribute assets. This is the judicial process of proving a will or, if there was no valid will, the process of administering the estate according to state laws. However, this process is not always a requirement. Certain estates that meet Hawaii's definition of "small estates" are eligible for summary probate proceedings or are exempt from the requirement altogether.

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Assets Subject to Probate

Even if probate is necessary, not all assets are subject to it. Assets owned as joint tenants with rights of survivorship pass to the other surviving joint tenants when one joint tenant dies. Similarly, assets held inside trusts and those with named beneficiaries, such as retirement accounts and life insurance policies, pass outside of this type of court. These are nonprobate assets.

Assets owned solely in the deceased person's name alone without joint owners or beneficiaries are probate assets, but they are not necessarily subject to those proceedings.

What the Probate Process Involves

Hawaii laws require probate whenever the deceased person owned real estate in the state in their own name alone, regardless of its value or the decedent's equity in the property. If a Hawaii resident did not own real estate individually but had other assets such as bank accounts, investments, or tangible personal property totaling $100,000 or more, probate is required.

This process helps ensure the deceased person's wishes as specified in their last will and testament are honored and facilitates the orderly transition of assets to the named heirs. If someone died without a will, this serves to administer and distribute assets according to the state's intestacy laws.

As part of the procedure, the court appoints someone to serve as the personal representative or executor. Once appointed, the personal representative must notify all interested parties of the decedent's death. The personal representative also has legal authority to take title to assets and value them; pay debts, taxes, and final expenses; and distribute assets to heirs.

Requirements for a Small Estate in Hawaii

An estate consisting of personal property and non-real estate holdings totaling less than $100,000 may qualify for distribution as a small estate outside of probate court. To access or change title to your deceased loved one's assets in this case, use an Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property of the Decedent (Form 3C-E-210) in lieu of filing a probate application.

If your loved one owned real estate but the value of their other assets was less than $100,000, the estate must go through a summary probate process, which is somewhat simpler than a standard proceeding.

Summary Probate Proceedings

Small estates that would be exempt from the probate requirement but for real estate holdings may qualify for summary probate rather than a full, formal administration of the estate.

With this proceeding, for estates with personal property under $100,000, the Small Estates Division of the Hawaii Circuit Court may serve as personal representative, collecting, administering, and distributing assets. Many of the formalities of formal probate do not apply, and the personal representative can immediately distribute assets to the persons entitled to receive them without all of the notification formalities required for a formal administration.

Determining whether an estate is subject to probate in Hawaii is not always easy. You may wish to consult with a licensed attorney.

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