When you create a will, you name an executor to handle your final affairs. During the probate process, the Pennsylvania court will supervise the executor as he or she gathers, values and distributes the estate assets.
Careful estate planning can help you streamline the probate process and decrease the time and money required to fulfill the provisions in your will.
Assets that require probate
Certain assets are exempt from probate in Pennsylvania. Your executor can distribute these items directly to the designated heir:
- Maximum of $10,000 in unpaid salary or wages
- Maximum of $10,000 in cash to a close family member or spouse
- Any assets you placed in a living trust
- Payable-on-death bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance accounts and other policies with a named beneficiary
- Property owned together with someone else, such as the residence you and your spouse share
All other assets are subject to probate.
Simplified Pennsylvania probate
The state limits the formal probate process to estates exceeding a value of $50,000. Probate-exempt assets and burial or funeral expenses do not count toward this threshold. If applicable, your executor can file a request with the local probate court for simplified probate. If the court approves, he or she may directly distribute estate assets without legal supervision.
Formal Pennsylvania probate
Estates with more than $50,000 in nonexempt assets require full probate. This process begins when your executor submits a probate petition and copy of the will with your county register of wills. If the documents are valid, the court will give the executor legal permission to settle your estate. If you did not sign the will in front of witnesses and a notary, the executor must also gather sworn statements from witnesses before proceeding.
First, the executor repays outstanding taxes and debts from your estate assets. He or she then transfers the remaining assets to the named beneficiaries in accordance with your final wishes.