If individuals die with limited assets, the state of Pennsylvania has laws specific to their estate situation in order to ease access to the estate for the family, rather than going through the process of raising an estate at the Office of Register of Wills. This can greatly ease the estate process for the families of deceased persons with small estates and specific assets who did not have a will.
An employer, for example, can pay wages or benefits up to $5,000 to the family of the deceased, including father, mother, any child, or sibling if they are a resident of Pennsylvania. Banks and other credit unions can provide funds to the same family members as long as the accounts to do equal more than $3,500. If the amount surpasses this, Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration will be necessary in order to access the funds.
The family member who received the funds must prove to the bank that funeral arrangements have been made, either with an affidavit from the funeral director or with a paid funeral bill. Additionally, in cases where the decedent was in a nursing home or otherwise receiving medical assistance benefits, the facility may pay the balance to the same family members after the payment of funeral expenses.
Wills and testaments are not necessary for people with small estates; however, there are many details to take into consideration in each of these cases. It is always better to plan for the worst than to risk that your loved ones will not have simple access to your assets. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney, even for people with limited assets, can guarantee that loved ones are not distracted during the grieving process.
Source: The Pocono Record, "State laws ease access to deceased's estate," Lori J. Cerato, Oct. 3, 2012