No two Pennsylvania Probate cases are the same. Probate and Estate Administration in Pennsylvania ranges from simple to complex, depending on the size of the estate, the number of beneficiaries and other factors. If you live in the Philadelphia area and need probate assistance, the following Q&A may be a starting point. However, if you are an Executor of an estate in Pennsylvania, you should contact our firm immediately if you have any questions about your role as a fiduciary.

  1. What if someone dies without a Will? Do you still have to go through probate? Yes, probate is still necessary regardless of whether one has a Will or not. If there is a will, an Executor is granted “Letters Testamentary”. If there is no will, the Register of Wills appoints an Administrator and grants “Letters of Administration”. Either person has the same powers.
  2. What if there is a Living Trust instead of a Will? Do you still have to go through probate? That depends. If all of the assets are in the trust, and therefore no assets passing through the Will, then probate is likely unnecessary. However, any assets not part of the trust may be required to be probated. This excludes any assets that have beneficiary designation forms attached to them, such as IRA’s, annuities, 403(b)’s, life insurance, payable on death accounts (PODs, TODs, Totten Trusts), etc.
  3. Does property titled jointly have to go through probate? No, jointly titled property is a tool used to avoid probate. However, inheritance taxes are still due on the ownership percentage of the decedent.
  4. While I am living, should I title everything jointly to avoid probate? Not necessarily — you should meet with a qualified attorney to determine the ramifications of jointly titling assets. Although joint ownership may be convenient, there are several major unintended consequences, such as tax problems, asset protection issues and other issues that could occur.
  5. What are the current Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax rates? The following are the PA Inheritance Tax Rates:
    Property to spouses: 0%
    Property to children or parents: 4.5%
    Property to siblings: 12%
    Property to all others: 15%
  6. What are the current Federal Estate Tax rates? Currently, estate tax and lifetime gift tax exemptions are very high, meaning very few of us or our estates will have to be concerned about federal estate tax. However, this could change in the future. If the exemptions are lowered, more planning may be required.
  7. Is probate difficult in Pennsylvania? Probate in Pennsylvania is relatively streamlined when compared to other states. In Pennsylvania, there is typically no court supervision of the distribution of assets, unless someone contests the estate. In other states, courts supervise the process much more, causing attorneys fees to rise. In Pennsylvania, the county Register of Wills handles all matters of probate. Any disputes are resolved in the Orphans Court in the county. Our firm handles cases in Bucks County, Montgomery County, Delaware County, Chester County and Philadelphia County.

We hope the information above is helpful to get started. When you’re ready, schedule some time to meet with us and we can help you.

Pennsylvania Probate Resources: