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Understanding Probate in Pennsylvania

May 1, 2020

The word “probate” is enough to make your heart race. It seems like everything you have heard about probate has to do with how long and expensive it is. Here is some good news, though. Pennsylvania’s probate process is easier and faster than it is in many other states. Also, lots of your assets can skip probate and go directly to the beneficiaries. Instead of stressing about probate, learn more about it to see that it is not nearly as stressful as you think.

What to know about probate in Pennsylvania

Many people go into the probate process blind. They do not understand how it works, so they are confused. People should learn the basics to be prepared. This includes understanding non-probate property, simplified probate, and regular probate. Then, people will be ready to navigate the process.

Non-probate property

Many people are surprised to learn that many assets can skip probate. These assets are directly transferred to the beneficiary. Non-probate assets include joint tenancy assets. The assets are immediately transferred to the other owner. Real estate often falls into this category.

Also, assets where the deceased designated a beneficiary typically skip probate. For instance, retirement plans, life insurance, and bank accounts usually skip probate. Also, employers can pay survivors up to $5,000, and financial institutions can provide up to $10,000 without going through probate. For financial institutions to release the funds, funeral expenses must have been paid.

Finally, assets held in a living trust do not need to go through probate. This is one reason why some people choose to create a living trust, along with the control it provides the trust holder. Just because the assets in the living trust skip probate does not mean probate is skipped altogether. Depending on the assets, the assets outside of the trust might have to go through probate.

Probate for small estates

Validating large estates can be a time-consuming process. However, smaller estates are much easier to settle. This is especially true in Pennsylvania, where the state has created a simplified probate system for estates that are valued at $50,000 or less. Real estate, burial expenses, and exempt assets do not count toward the $50,000 limit.

To initiate simplified probate, the executor values the assets and submits a request to the court. If granted, the executor is allowed to transfer the assets to the beneficiaries without going through probate. However, the executor must still pay all taxes and creditors out of the estate. Also, real property must go through regular probate.

Regular probate

The regular probate process is a bit more complex. The executor initiates probate by filing the will and the petition of probate. After receiving the Letters of Testamentary, the executor sends notices about probate. This includes notifying the public. Then, the executor pays for the debts. Once the debts are settled, the executor distributes assets according to the will.

Getting help with probate

Pennsylvania probate might be simpler than other states, but it can still be confusing if you are not well-versed in the law. An estate planning attorney can help you ensure that the process goes seamlessly. From choosing your executor to helping you understand which assets can skip probate, it is nice to have someone on your side. Contact an attorney so you can get details of the specifics of your estate.

Contact us here for more information from Kim A. Bodnar, Attorney at Law or to schedule a consultation in our office in Pittsburgh. NOTE: This is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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