The probate courts exist in part to prevent people from breaking the law during estate administration and to protect the rights of beneficiaries, testators and those owed money by someone who recently died.
Still, Pennsylvania probate proceedings can be inconvenient for the beneficiaries of an estate who must wait for weeks, if not many months, to gain access to their inheritance. Any assets that must pass through probate court could be subject to claims by creditors or possibly by the Medicaid recovery program.
Many people thinking about their estate planning goals will specifically aspire to avoid probate court with special documents. If you understand why your estate is at risk of probate oversight, it can be easier to plan to minimize the probate process. What assets in your estate would trigger probate proceedings?
Any real property solely in your name
Your real property, such as your home, your cabin or the vacant land purchased as an investment years ago, will always require probate oversight. If you are the only owner, the courts will ensure it passes to the right party.
Regardless of how much the real estate is worth or how clear your instructions are regarding who should receive that property, the probate courts will have to oversee any estate with a home or land transferring hands.
Testators can avoid triggering this rule by changing the way they hold ownership of their home, such as granting someone joint tenancy with rights of survivorship. They might also move their real property to a trust so that it doesn’t have to pass through probate court when they die.
Property worth $50,000 or more
Valuable assets could lead to conflict and therefore require probate court oversight. Even if all you own are the contents of your apartment, your furniture and bank account could have a total value of more than $50,000, which is the threshold for probate court oversight in Pennsylvania.
Making gifts prior to your death, arranging for certain assets to transfer after you die with special account designations or moving property into a trust are all strategies that can help those concerned about probate oversight triggered by the total value of their estates.
Understanding when the probate courts would involve themselves in managing your legacy can help you create an estate plan that minimizes the probate court delays and frustrations your beneficiaries experience.