Do All Wills Have to be Probated in Pennsylvania?

By Joseph Scrofano

All wills must be probated in Pennsylvania. However, Pennsylvania provides a simplified process for smaller estates, with shorter proceedings and typically fewer expenses than traditional probate. In Pennsylvania, any interested party -- like a spouse or other beneficiary, creditor or the personal representative designated in the will -- may file a petition for settlement with the court if the estate meets certain requirements.

Petition for Settlement

A petition for settlement is a simplified procedure that is less cumbersome than traditional probate. The petition must include three lists: a list of the estate’s inventoried assets; a list of the estate’s debts, including any taxes owed; and a list all beneficiaries. Once all appropriate parties receive notice, the court has the authority to order all payments, distributions and transfers of assets from the estate. These assets include money from bank accounts, stocks, bonds and others.

Estate Size

Pennsylvania law only allows this procedure for estates of a particular size. To qualify for petition for settlement, the estate may not have personal property, once inventoried, valued in excess of $25,000.

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Real Property

Pennsylvania probate law also imposes requirements regarding real property. If a decedent owned any real property solely in the decedent’s name, then the estate does not qualify for petition for settlement regardless of its value. Real property basically means any real estate, such as land, houses or commercial real estate.

Exempt Property

Regardless of the size or type of a decedent’s estate, Pennsylvania law exempts certain property from the probate procedure all together. For instance, life insurance proceeds are not subject to probate or small estate administration. In addition, pensions and annuities do not count towards the estate size or need to go through probate for transfer. These assets usually have beneficiaries assigned to them by the decedent prior to death, independent of a last will and testament. In addition, jointly owned property, like a house owned by a husband and wife, simply transfers to the surviving spouse. It may be possible to simply provide a death certificate to transfer title from a jointly held property to the surviving spouse.

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