Most estates pass through the probate process before the distribution of assets to heirs occurs. This process can take a long time depending on how large the decedent’s estate is, how many heirs or beneficiaries they have and whether someone contests their will.
There are two different probate processes here in Pennsylvania — the regular and simplified options. The former may take some time to work its way through the legal system. The simplified probate takes less time.
Not everyone’s estate can go through the simplified process. Pennsylvania law classifies any estate that contains $50,000 or less in assets as a small one that qualifies for the simplified probate process. This $50,000 cap doesn’t include any funds designated funeral expenses or any funds that the family can collect outside of the probate process. Real estate isn’t included in this asset limit either.
How is Pennsylvania’s simplified estate process initiated?
The executor of a testator’s estate initiates the probate process whether they’re pursuing a simplified or regular process. Any request to initiate the simplified process must be made in writing by the executor. Provided the court signs off on it, the judge will allow the executor to distribute the decedent’s assets without having to go through the probate process.
Assets that generally don’t have to go through the probate process
Certain types of assets generally don’t have to pass through the probate process. Those include:
- Bank accounts containing transfer on death (TOD) or payable on death (POD) clauses
- Property placed into a living trust
- Any retirement accounts or life insurance policies with designated beneficiaries
- Real estate owned by tenancy by the entirety or joint tenants with a right of survivorship
Any decedent’s estate that contains the above-referenced assets may also qualify for the simplified probate process provided there weren’t any other assets exceeding $50,000.
An attorney can help you determine whether to petition a judge to pursue the simplified probate process or whether it’s necessary to move forward with the regular one as you fulfill your executor duties.