My Spouse Recently Died, Do I Need to Probate His Will?

Chances are good that you may not need to probate the will. Most married couples own most of their assets jointly. Assets owned jointly between husband and wife pass automatically to the survivor. Even household contents and other personal property that is not registered or titled are presumed to be jointly owned by spouses.

Many times spouses will not own their autos jointly. Fortunately, Pennsylvania allows a spouse to transfer title to the deceased spouse’s auto without first being appointed as the executor of the estate.

Assets, such as retirement plans, annuities and trusts are designed to have a beneficiary named right in the document. These assets which have a beneficiary named, who is living when the account holder dies, will automatically pass to the beneficiary without needing to probate the will. If there is no living beneficiary, however, then the asset passes to the decedent’s estate and the will must be probated in order to secure the asset.

Assets which are titled, such as bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, vehicles and real estate which were owned solely by the deceased spouse pass to his estate. This requires the will to be probated and an executor to be appointed in order to secure the assets.

There are exceptions to the probate requirement for estates of $50,000 or less. The alternative procedure for these small estates still requires paperwork to be filed with the orphans court. I can explain whether this alternative procedure for small estates makes sense for you.

If your spouse had debts equal to or greater than the assets he owned in his sole name, it may not be wise to probate. Here again, I can explain the law and help you determine what is best for you.

Remember that, even if the will is not probated, a Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Return must be filed. This is true even if there is no tax due.

What I have explained here is a generalized review of the law. The facts of your situation are important and will dictate how you should be handle things.

Many times, during one office appointment, I can answer all of your questions. You can make an appointment by calling 610-323-7464.