As you go about the process of estate planning, there are many factors you will need to consider. One of those factors is probate. The term probate refers to the legal process by which a will is reviewed to determine whether it is valid, as well as the administration of a deceased person’s estate if they did not leave a will. Probate is something many people dread, but depending on your situation, it can really be very simple. Read on to find out more about the probate process in Pennsylvania, and whether or not probate laws will apply to your estate.
Some Assets Do Not Need to Go Through Probate
Generally speaking, probate only applies to assets that were owned by the diseased person alone. Any jointly owned assets or assets with a beneficiary are transferred to the joint owner or beneficiary without going through probate. Some examples of exempt assets would include:
- A jointly owned house;
- A jointly owned bank account;
- Payable-on-death bank accounts;
- Life insurance policies;
- Retirement plan accounts;
- Assets held in a living trust;
- Small amounts of cash may be able to be passed to a spouse, children, or other relatives without probate in some situations
These are some of the most common probate exempt assets, but there may be others. An elder law attorney who specializes in probate can help you determine which assets from your estate will need to go through probate and which will be exempt.
Pennsylvania Simplifying the Probate Process for Smaller Estates
Estates that contain less than $50,000 in assets can go through a simplified probate process, per Pennsylvania state law. Real estate and money used to pay for funeral expenses are not included in this total, and some other money may be able to be collected without going through probate. Again, a probate attorney in the Philadelphia area can help you determine if your estate is small enough to qualify for simplified probate.
The Regular Probate Process in Pennsylvania
While the small estate process exists, most probates are manageable when you have a competent and experienced estate administration attorney. When an estate is large enough, it will have to go through probate before it can be distributed to your heirs. This is a process with many steps, so it’s a good idea to speak with an elder law attorney who specializes in probate as you do your estate planning. You may also want to put your heirs in contact with your probate attorney to ensure there will be continuity after you pass away.
If you named an executor in your will, that person will be responsible for administering your estate. If there was no will, a family member (usually the surviving spouse or adult child) will serve as the estate administrator. The estate administrator will file paperwork to begin the probate process and will be required to pay a fee based on the size of the estate. They will then notify all heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors that probate is beginning. They will also be required to publish a notice in two local newspapers.
Once probate starts, all assets must be gathered up and an inventory was taken. All debts and taxes will also be totaled. These will be paid from the estate, as will Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax, which varies depending on who will be receiving the money. If the estate is large enough (more than $12.06 million as of 2022), federal estate tax may be due. Once all the deceased person’s debts and taxes are paid, the administrator can begin distributing assets in accordance with their final wishes.
Finding a Probate Lawyer in Pennsylvania
As you can see, the regular probate process is very complicated. The assistance of a probate attorney will be invaluable throughout this process. Even the administrators of smaller estates can benefit from the advice of a probate lawyer. As an elder law attorney for nearly 30 years, Robert Slutsky was one of the first lawyers in Pennsylvania to fully dedicate himself to the legal issues faced by older people. His decades of experience make him perfectly suited to advise you as you plan for your estate, or if you are administering someone else’s estate. Call (610) 940-0650 to schedule a consultation on advice about the probate process or for any other elder law concerns you may have.