Probate in the Virgin Islands, More Options Than You Would Think

When a loved one dies, someone has to deal with their affairs and, in some instances, probate is unavoidable.  Generally, probate is viewed as a long and daunting process to administer a loved one’s estate.  Many people, however, are unaware of the different types of probate proceedings, which vary in the length of time for completion.   

 The first is a Summary Administration of Estates Under $300.  This proceeding takes approximately 3-5 months.  As the title lends, this proceeding is available where the assets of an estate is valued at less than $300 regardless of whether the decedent left a will.  (Unfortunately, the law needs to be amended as $300 is far too low but that is the current state of the law.)

 The second is a Petition for Settlement Without Administration.  This proceeding takes approximately 6-12 months and is an option where all of the heirs agree to assume the decedent’s debts, if any, and are placed in possession of the assets of the estate without a formal administration.

 The third is a Petition for Probate With Administration.  This is longest of the probate proceedings and takes approximately 18 months.  It is most often undertaken when the decedent left a will but it can also be utilized where a decedent left no will.

 One other type of probate action worth mentioning is Ancillary Probate.  This type of probate is used when the decedent’s last place of residence was outside of the Virgin Islands but the decedent left assets in the Virgin Islands.  In most instances, the decedent’s estate was probated in his or her home state and the heirs seek a second, or ancillary, probate in the Virgin Islands.  There are two kinds of ancillary probate:  1. Recognition of a Foreign Will, which takes approximately 6-8 months; and 2. Ancillary Probate With Administration, which takes approximately 18 months.  Recognition of a Foreign Will is similar to the Petition for Settlement Without Administration, discussed above; and Ancillary Probate With Administration is similar to a Petition for Probate With Administration, also discussed above.

 Keep in mind that the timeframes provided may change depending on the complexity of the decedent’s estate and other variables.  Nonetheless, because each probate proceeding differs in length of time and the associated expenses, costs and attorney’s fees, each should be given careful consideration.  Consult with an attorney about which proceeding is right for you.  It is also worth the time to consult with an attorney regarding ways to avoid probate altogether through advanced estate planning.

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