Probate question for very small estate

My mother-in-law died in March. She was in a Medicaid-funded nursing home. Her only assets were a checking account held jointly with my wife and an irrevocable burial reserve account. Since the checking account was joint the funds passed directly to my wife. However, after funeral expenses were paid there was about $600 left in the burial reserve. The bank will only issue a check to my MIL’s estate. My wife is named executor in the will, but without the short certificate from the probate court she can’t deposit or cash the check. My MIL’s lawyer says between fees and required public notices the cost of probate will likely use up most or all of the $600.

To complicate matters, my MIL was a resident of (and died in) Pennsylvania. We live in Arizona, so a quick run to the courthouse isn’t in the cards.

Is there any way to get access to that $600? Or does the bank get a nice gift?

It will vary by state. When my father died there was a little money left over that didn’t fit into any other category. The state of Illinois has something called “small estate” for just such a thing. There was a nominal charge to open it, and I did the whole thing by mail.

Call the county probate office. You can likely fill out the form yourself for a nominal fee. You likely won’t need a lawyer at all for this. The public notices might be a bit pricey depending on the paper. If the lawyer does it, there will be a hefty surcharge.

There is a “small estates” law in Pennsylvania. One provision, cited here, seems to say that a bank holding less then $10,000 shall release it to one of a list of certain designated family members upon being shown a paid-off funeral bill or an affidavit from a funeral home stating that it has been fully paid.

You might try calling the bank and citing this provision, to ask more specifically what documentation they need to receive in order to release the money to your wife. Please be aware that I do not practice in this area and I am not licensed in Pennsylvania, so I may be reading this provision incorrectly or missing some reason why it does not apply.

Further disclaimer: this is just an anonymous discussion and should not be taken to create an attorney-client relationship.

Thanks. The first person who we talked to at the bank actually told us that below $10k the money could be given directly to my wife. Everyone since that person has said it needs to be paid to the estate. I will give them the cite next time we talk to them.