Troubleshooting Legal Problems

What executors need to know about out-of-state assets

If you’re the executor of a relative’s or friend’s estate, you are probably grateful if they did some thoughtful estate planning to keep their assets out of probate court. This can make administering the estate easier and faster.

What if you find out, however, that the decedent had assets in another state? Too often, people neglect those in their estate planning – particularly if they don’t have legal guidance. They may intend to sell or give them away before they die but never get around to doing it.

Many Pennsylvanians own assets outside the state

It’s not unusual for Pennsylvania residents to hang onto a townhouse in New York as a rental property or have a vacation home on the Jersey Shore. Things like out-of-state bank accounts, boats, part ownership of a business and more also need to be addressed in estate planning and during estate administration.

If the deceased owned an asset in another state, you may have to deal with something called “ancillary probate.” This refers to a probate proceeding outside of the home (domiciliary) state. A Pennsylvania probate court has no jurisdiction over it.

Fortunately, ancillary probate typically isn’t as complicated as the regular probate process. As long as a Pennsylvania probate court recognizes the estate plan as valid, another state’s probate court typically will as well.

Ancillary probate can be avoided

When developing an estate plan, a person can take the same steps to avoid ancillary probate, just as they can to avoid probate in their home state. Those include:

  • Placing the assets in a living trust
  • Adding the designated beneficiaries as co-owners of the asset or giving them the right of survivorship or payable-on-death (POD) status
  • Designating a beneficiary directly on the account

As an executor of an estate, the fewer surprises you encounter, the easier your job will be. That’s why it’s always wise for people to talk with their chosen executor and other administrators like trustees so that they have a clear understanding of what to expect and what the person’s wishes are (although these still need to be clearly codified).

It’s always wise, however, to have sound legal guidance as you deal with someone’s estate after they’re gone. This will help you avoid unnecessary problems and help minimize conflicts with heirs and other beneficiaries.