Probate is a Pennsylvania court process that offically transfers a deceased person’s estate (everything they owned) to their legal beneficiaries. It’s notoriously confusing to navigate; there are many deadlines and fees involved, steps to follow, and court documents to fill out, and responsibilities of the person in charge. Probate tends to be time-consuming and expensive, as well. For families who are grieving the loss of a loved one, spending so much time, money, and effort settling their family member’s estate is the last thing they want to be doing.
It’s not surprising, then, that one of the most commonly asked questions we get asked Pennsylyvania probate lawyers is whether or not probate is required. People want to know whether or not they can skip the process or if it absolutely has to happen according to state laws. The answer depends on your specific circumstances.
If you’re reading this blog because you’ve lost a loved one recently, allow us to first offer our condolences for your loss. Death is always difficult, and probate only makes it more so; our firm will do everything in our power to make it easier on you, starting with giving you the easy-to-understand information you need (not legal jargon) regarding when probate is required.
Probate will likely need to occur in the state of Pennsylvania if….
There Was No Estate Plan In Place.
Planning ahead can prevent probate from being necessary, but your loved one may not have realized this. Indeed, most people in Pennslyvania have never even heard of probate until they lose a loved one, so they don’t know that they need to take steps to prevent it.
The majority of the population realizes that they need a will, but either they don’t get around to making one because they think they’ll have more time later on in life, or they do make a will – but don’t make anything else. A will alone is not enough to prevent probate. In fact, probate is required mainly for the will: to carry out its terms and ensure the wishes of the deceased are honored. One of the first steps in probate is to submit the will to the court and have it validated. (If there is no will, probate will still occur, but it will be governed by something known as Pennslyvania intestate laws rather than by your loved one’s wishes).
In order to skip probate, your loved one will also have needed an estate plan, or at least a trust in place. A trust is a tool that can hold assets securely and transfer them upon death or incapacitation. Together, a will and a trust, along with other estate planning documents, ensure that probate doesn’t have to happen.
(Note: It may be too late for your loved one to save you the stress of probate, but it’s extremely important for you to realize that you can save your family the same stress by creating an estate plan today. Daly Law Offices can help.)
Not All Assets Were Owned Jointly.
Probate isn’t required for assets that were owned in joint tenancy with another person – such as a house that was owned jointly with a spouse, or a bank account owned with the spouse, so long as the other owner is still living. All assets owned in joint tenancy can be transferred directly to the complete control of the other owner without a court process. (There is also something known as “tenancy by the entirety”, which is a form of joint ownership available to married couples in Pennsylvania and can also bypass probate.) Only assets that were owned by the deceased person in his or her name alone need to go through probate.
There Were No “Payable-on-Death”/ “Transfer-On-Death” Designations
Probate is required if assets were held by your loved one in their name only, but there is an exception if they added “payable-on-death” (POD) designations to their bank accounts, or “transfer-on-death” (TOD) designations to their brokerage accounts. These are designations the state of Pennsylvania allows that can help account owners retain complete control of their money/stocks/bonds during their lifetime; however, upon death, the beneficiary(ies) named can claim and inherit those assets by dealing directly with the bank or brokerage company. No probate proceedings will be necessary. However, it is important to note that Pennslyvnia does not allow TODs for real estate or vehicles.
The Estate Is Worth Over $50,000.
If the estate is considered a “small estate” by Pennslyvania law – that is, an estate that totals less than $50,000, not including real estate, vehicles, life insurance, and funeral costs – a type of simplified probate can occur. The exeutor/personal representative (the person in charge of overseeing the probate process) needs to file a written request with the local court asking to use the simplified procedure. If granted, this can significantly reduce the time and expense of probate. However, if the estate is worth more than $50,000, probate is required.
If You Need Probate Guidance, Call Our Pennsylvania Probate Attorney For A Free Consultation!
If you’re not sure whether or not your deceased loved one’s estate needs to go through probate, call Daly Law Offices. We’ll work with you to explain your options and help you avoid probate if possible; if it can’t be avoided, we’ll handle everything for you so you can focus on moving forward with life after loss. We can also help you plan for the future so that your family doesn’t have to go through probate when you pass away someday. Our goal is to give you peace of mind and all the legal support you need during a difficult time for you and your family. Our lead attorney, Joshua N. Daly, is a lifelong resident of the Lehigh Valley. Over his 15 years of practicing law, he has developed a passion for guiding grieving families through probate. Let Mr. Daly be your legal advocate – call his office today to request a free consultation, get your questions answered, and get started working towards the best resolution.