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The Probate Process in Pennsylvania—Part One

May 31, 2018 Estate Planning


Is Probate Necessary?

In Pennsylvania, when a person dies, one of the first considerations, after the grieving process, centers on how the person’s assets will be transferred. That’s typically the function of the probate process—to ensure the orderly distribution of property in accordance with the deceased’s wishes. In this series of blogs, we will provide an overview of the entire probate process, so that you know your rights and what you can expect.

However, before looking more closely at the probate process, it’s necessary to determine whether probate is required at all. To clarify that question, it’s important to understand why probate is necessary. As a general rule, because the deceased can no longer make decisions about the transfer of property, the probate court must step in to ensure that there’s no improper conduct and that property is not wrongfully misappropriated. There are, however, specific instances where property can pass without the need for probate proceedings:

  • If the property is held jointly at the time of death—Under the law, any property owned “in joint tenancy” or in “tenancy by the entirety” passes to all other joint owners by law upon the death of one joint owner. There’s no need for any document of conveyance. It’s common to title real property and bank accounts jointly, so that they transfer automatically upon death. Because they transfer automatically, the court does not need to get involved.
  • Property granted to a specific person or entity outside of a will—A retirement account will typically name a beneficiary in the event of the death of the account holder. Other assets that avoid probate this way include life insurance proceeds and payable on death bank accounts.
  • Assets placed in trust—A trust is a separate legal entity, with the power to hold, buy and sell assets. Property placed into a trust is no longer the property of the person who transferred it there. Accordingly, it’s no longer a part of that person’s estate upon death and does not need to go through probate.

In Pennsylvania, a financial institution may release up to $10,000 to a surviving spouse without court authorization, if provided with a certified of the death certificate and evidence that funeral expenses have been paid.

Contact Our Office

At Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie & Seelaus, LLP, we offer experienced and knowledgeable legal counsel to individuals in Pennsylvania. To set up an appointment for a free initial consultation, call us at 610-565-4055 or 302-594-4535 or contact us online.

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