Erie E-Law is a complimentary service of the Erie County Bar Association designed to make basic legal information available to you with ease. You can gain access to E-Law either by reading the information found below or by contacting us to request a copy of the transcripts.

Small Estates

Posted on February 19th, 2019 at 4:42 PM

If you need to consult with an attorney or would like more information on small estates, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral & Information Service.

Assets of a Pennsylvania decedent are usually subject to administration by the Orphans' Court of the County in which the decedent resided. However, there are exceptions. Some assets are outside the scope of administration by the Court (also referred to as non-probate assets or property). Examples of non-probate assets include some assets that are owned jointly, such as joint bank accounts, and can also include insurance, pensions or retirement accounts, and certain annuities where a designated beneficiary, that was chosen by the decedent prior to his or her death, is named. With non-probate assets, the filing of a death claim or the production of a death certificate may be all that is necessary to transfer title or establish the right to the assets, although the assets may still be subject to Pennsylvania inheritance tax.

On the other hand, assets which are in the decedent's name alone (also referred to as probate assets or property) may need to be transferred by a Court-appointed personal representative or with a Court Order. When the value of a decedent's probate assets does not exceed $50,000.00 and there is no real estate owned by the decedent, a simplified procedure is available to administer and transfer the estate assets without full probate administration. This procedure is the Petition for Settlement of a Small Estate. A person interested in the estate, such as a spouse, a beneficiary, a creditor, or a personal representative may file a petition with the Court. This is usually done with the assistance of an attorney. This petition will list all of the decedent's assets, the decedent’s and the estate's obligations, including inheritance taxes, and the decedent's beneficiaries or other persons entitled to the decedent's property. With appropriate notice to all interested parties, the Court may authorize all necessary payments, transfers, and appropriate distributions. In this manner the entire administration of the estate is accomplished in one relatively simple procedure. Assets, such as bank accounts or stocks and bonds, which often require proof of authority to transfer, can be transferred with a Court Order using this procedure.

To take advantage of this simplified procedure of the Petition for Settlement of a Small Estate, the decedent's probate assets cannot exceed $50,000.00 in value. In addition, this procedure cannot be utilized if the decedent owned real estate in his or her name at the time of death. If a decedent's assets exceed $50,000.00, or the decedent owned real estate, the personal representative of the estate will need to comply with requirements of full probate administration. This is more time-consuming and expensive, but a necessary procedure in larger estates. In either case, however, you should consult an attorney for advice and assistance in filing all required papers and tax returns.

Information is current as of 2/2019.