Pennsylvania offers a probate shortcut for "small estates." This makes it easier for survivors to transfer property left by a person who has died. You may be able to transfer a large amount of property using the simplified probate process -- saving time, money, and hassle. The state also allows transfers of small amounts of cash to surviving family members without probate court approval.
Pennsylvania has a simplified probate process for small estates. To use it, an executor files a written request with the local probate court asking to use the simplified procedure. The court may authorize the executor to distribute the assets without having to jump through the hoops of regular probate.
You can use the simplified small estate process in Pennsylvania if property (not counting real estate, certain vehicles, certain payments the family is entitled to, and funeral costs) is worth $50,000 or less. The court may allow this proceeding without having to give notice to creditors. (20 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3102.)
Pennsylvania law authorizes financial institutions to release up to $10,000 to certain surviving family members, without probate court authorization. All the surviving spouse (or if there is no surviving spouse, to surviving children; if there are no children, to more distant relatives) must do is show the bank a certified copy of the death certificate and proof that funeral expenses have been paid. (20 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3101.)
Employers may pay up to $10,000 in wages, salary, or other compensation to the employee's surviving spouse (or if there is no surviving spouse, to surviving children; if there are no children, to more distant relatives). Probate court approval is not necessary. (20 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3101.)
If an insurance company owes the deceased person's estate up to $11,000 in life insurance benefits, and the personal representative of the estate hasn't claimed the policy proceeds within 60 days after the death, the company may pay the money to the surviving spouse (or if there isn't one, to other relatives) without probate court approval.
If at the time of death, the deceased person was living in a nursing home or similar facility, the facility can use funds in the patient's care account to pay up to $10,000 in funeral expenses. It would then pay any remaining balance to the surviving spouse (or if there isn't one, to other relatives).
For help determining whether or not an estate qualifies for one of these probate shortcuts, or handling an estate in general, see The Executor's Guide, by Mary Randolph (Nolo) or Estate Planning Basics, by Denis Clifford (Nolo).