In American law, probate covers the issues over which a probate court has authority. These include traditional proof wills, appointment of guardians and conservators as well as the disposition of estates. In most cases, a family may have to face probate court when a family member dies or becomes incompetent or when a minor inherits property. Although the probate system is good to protect family members and creditors, you still have various options to avoid probate in Pennsylvania so that you determine who will raise your minor children or how your property is divided.
Make a living trust. In Pennsylvania, you are allowed to make a living trust so as to avoid probate of real estate, vehicles and bank accounts among others. Create a trust document mentioning the person you choose as trustee after your death. Transfer the rights of your assets to yourself so that you are the trustee of the trust. Upon your death, your heir trustee transfers your property to the trust beneficiaries without probate court proceedings.
Make joint ownership. Get someone to own property with jointly. Include the right of survivorship in this ownership so that the surviving owner automatically acquires ownership of the property in the event one party dies. The surviving owner can then transfer the property without probate.
Add payable-on-death (POD) designation. In Pennsylvania, you are allowed to add a POD to your bank accounts including savings accounts and certificates of deposit. Name your POD beneficiary who has the right to claim the money directly from the bank when you die without going through court proceedings. You can spend all your money if you so wish since the beneficiary has no rights over it until you die.
Register property in transfer-on-death (TOD) form. Register your stocks, bonds and bank accounts in TOD form. This allows you to name a beneficiary who will automatically inherit the aforementioned when you die. The beneficiary then works directly with the brokerage company to reassign your account without involving the probate court. Pennsylvania law does not allow TOD on real estate and vehicles.
Joint ownership property can take the form of joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety. Joint tenancy applies when partners acquire property together and each owner must own an equal share. Tenancy by the entirety only applies to married couples in Pennsylvania.
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