When someone dies, it’s not unusual to leave behind a bank account in that person’s name alone, rather than in an account held jointly or with a named beneficiary.

Under Pennsylvania law, someone will have to open a probate estate for such accounts over $10,000. That means going to the Register of Wills office, filing papers, and going through a somewhat involved procedure, sometimes to close only one bank account.

But if the account is $10,000 or less in value, Pennsylvania law allows next of kin to obtain funds remaining in the account with no need to open a probate estate.

This rule is found in Pennsylvania’s statutes at 20 Pa. C.S. § 3101(b). It requires a family member to present to the bank a receipt (or an affidavit of a licensed funeral director) showing that “satisfactory arrangements for payment of funeral services have been made.”

The bank must then pay the amount on deposit “to the spouse, any child, the father or mother or any sister or brother (preference being given in the order named) of the deceased depositor.”

Keep this provision in mind when you’re arranging your personal affairs. If all your other assets are owned jointly, or have beneficiaries (like life insurance or retirement plans), keep any bank account under $10,000 to avoid burdening your family with an unnecessary probate proceeding.

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