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.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

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.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
Can I Put Jointly Held Property in a Living Trust?

References

Related articles

Does the Executor of the Will Supersede a Joint Holder on a Bank Account?

When a person dies, some of his assets – including cash – may pass to different people depending on how those assets are titled. Bank accounts are assets that can pass automatically without going through court instead of being controlled and distributed by an executor in a probate proceeding. Generally, funds in a joint bank account will pass automatically to the surviving joint owner when one joint owner dies.

What Items Should Be Put Into a Living Trust?

A living trust is created during a person's lifetime and comes in two types: revocable and irrevocable. A revocable trust allows you to freely transfer your property in and out of the trust. By contrast, the maker of an irrevocable trust cannot serve as trustee or exercise control over the trust's assets, so irrevocable trusts are less flexible than revocable trusts. Many people fund their revocable trusts with their most valuable assets, which usually include the family home, bank accounts and investments.

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.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

Probate Vs. Non-Probate Assets in Ohio

In Ohio, as in other states, certain assets are classified as probate or non-probate property. Non-probate assets are ...

Does a Will Override a Joint Account?

Married couples often have joint bank accounts, and it’s not uncommon for elderly parents to share an account with an ...

What Is the Law for Beneficiary Designation for Bank Accounts?

Planning for distribution of your assets after your death can be a complex and confusing process. Naming beneficiaries ...

Does a Will Supersede a Pay on Death Account in California Law as to Inheritance Rights?

When people die, their assets must be collected, protected and distributed. In California, probate courts oversee the ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED