Does an estate always have to go through probate?

If a decedent dies with assets held solely in their name, and the assets are to be transferred to a beneficiary, it is likely the estate will need to go through probate.  If a decedent had debts, the estate may need to go through probate to limit the time that the debtors may collect on the debts.

Many states allow a more simplified process for modest estates.  For example, in the District of Columbia, if an estate has assets of $40,000 or less (and the decedent died after April 26, 2001), a small estate may be opened to appoint a personal representative, pay debts, and distribute the assets of the decedent.