Items That Are Not Part of a Probate Estate in Pennsylvania

By Jane Meggitt

Not all of a decedent's property in Pennsylvania falls under the state's probate laws. Whether or not a particular asset falls under the state's probate laws depends on how it is titled or if an asset includes designated beneficiaries. Generally, assets titled solely in the decedent's name must go through probate, while assets jointly held with right of survivorship and assets with designated beneficiaries do not.

Probate Assets

Assets subject to probate include all real estate and personal property owned solely by the decedent without designated beneficiaries. Pennsylvania requires the estate executor to submit an inventory of all of the decedent's assets and their value at the time of death to the probate court. This includes solely-owned bank and brokerage accounts, stocks and bonds, real estate, motor vehicles, art, jewelry, antiques and other items of value. Assets going through probate eventually pass to the heirs and beneficiaries named in the will.

Joint Tenants

Any jointly titled assets -- commonly, these include real estate, bank or brokerage accounts, cars and mutual funds -- do not pass through probate. Jointly-held bank accounts with right of survivorship go directly to the surviving account holders. None of these assets go to beneficiaries named in the will, so Pennsylvania residents must be careful when titling property. If you name someone as a joint account holder, the person has no legal obligation to share these assets with anyone else after your death.

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Assets With Designated Beneficiaries

For certain assets, you can designate beneficiaries. For example, you can name a beneficiary to your bank accounts, mutual funds, securities or brokerage accounts. These assets do not pass through probate but go to the designated beneficiary. To ensure these assets do not go through probate, select secondary beneficiaries in case the primary beneficiary dies before payment or transfer. Unlike some states, Pennsylvania does not permit transfer on death provisions for motor vehicles or real estate.

Retirement Accounts and Life Insurance Policies

The decedent's retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s or IRAs, name specific beneficiaries and do not pass through probate. Any life insurance policies in the decedent's name also avoid probate, with proceeds going directly to the designated beneficiaries. Choose secondary beneficiaries in case the primary beneficiary dies before a transfer of assets, rendering the funds subject to probate. The Internal Revenue Service has rules and regulations pertaining to retirement accounts depending on the relationship of the decedent to the beneficiary, with a surviving spouse having more leeway in making decisions regarding these assets.

Trusts

Accounts held in trust for another person do not go through probate. Legally, those assets belong to the trust, not the decedent.

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References

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When Don't You Need to Probate a Will?

When an individual dies and leaves a will detailing how his property should be distributed, the will must usually go through a probate process. However, the existence of a will does not mean that probate is always necessary. An individual can plan his estate so all of his assets pass outside of a will, making probate unnecessary. Many states also have laws that allow estates of a certain size to avoid the probate process.

Can Tenancies by the Entirety Go to Probate if a Spouse Dies?

Some types of property are referred to as non-probate property, meaning they bypass probate entirely. The most common reason for property to bypass the probate process is it automatically becomes the property of a designated individual after the decedent's death. Non-probate property includes life insurance proceeds, payable-on-death accounts, joint tenancies with right of survivorship and tenancies by the entirety.

Can an Executor of a Will Have Access to Joint Bank Accounts Not Under His Name?

If you intend to have money in your bank account go to a beneficiary you name in your will, you may need to check with your bank to see what type of account you have. If your bank accounts are set up with mechanisms to transfer ownership automatically upon your death, your executor does not have a right to access those funds and the money may not go to the person you name in your will.

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