Estate planning in Pennsylvania: what you need to know

1 min read by Unbiased team Last updated June 28, 2024

Explore the costs and complexities of estate planning in Pennsylvania.


  • Pennsylvania estate planning costs range from $900 to $6,350, varying by complexity and required services. 

  • Pennsylvania imposes an inheritance tax on beneficiaries rather than an estate tax, with rates based on their relationship to the deceased. 

  • In Pennsylvania, probate is only necessary if the decedent owned assets solely in their name without a designated beneficiary. 

  • It’s always best to get expert help when managing your estate; a financial advisor can ensure you’re making the best decisions for you and your family.  

How much does estate planning cost in Pennsylvania? 

When planning for your financial future, it is important to understand estate planning and its cost. A simple definition of estate planning involves arranging for the management and distribution of your assets after your death.  

Pennsylvania estate planning costs can vary significantly based on the complexity of your estate and the services required.  

On average, you can expect to pay between $900 and $6,350 for a comprehensive estate plan, including a will, power of attorney, and healthcare directives.  

Simple wills might cost as little as $250, while more complex plans, which include trusts, can run upwards of $4,000.  

Consulting a financial advisor and a Pennsylvania estate planning attorney can help you understand these costs in detail and tailor a plan to your specific needs. 

Estate planning in Pennsylvania costs are similar to those in neighboring states like New York and New Jersey but slightly higher than in Ohio and West Virginia, where the cost of living and professional fees are generally lower.   

How does Pennsylvania estate tax work? 

Pennsylvania imposes an inheritance tax rather than an estate tax. This means the tax is levied on the beneficiaries who inherit your property.  

Pennsylvania inheritance tax rates vary depending on the beneficiary's relationship to the deceased.  

Transfers to surviving spouses and charities are exempt, while transfers to direct descendants (children and grandchildren) are taxed at 4.5%. Siblings pay 12%, and other heirs, including nieces and nephews, are taxed at 15%. 

Valuing the estate includes assessing all property owned outright, jointly-held property, and life insurance proceeds paid to the estate. It’s essential to have accurate appraisals and understand the specific tax rates applicable to each heir to minimize the tax burden and ensure fair distribution. 

How does estate planning for blended families work in Pennsylvania? 

When dealing with estate planning for blended families in Pennsylvania, it’s crucial to create a comprehensive plan that addresses the needs of both biological and stepchildren.  

Clear delineation in wills and trusts can prevent potential disputes.  

For instance, a revocable living trust can be established to provide for a surviving spouse while ensuring that assets ultimately pass to the children from a previous marriage.  

Without an estate plan, your estate will be governed by Pennsylvania’s inheritance laws.  

How does tax planning for single parents work in Pennsylvania? 

Estate planning for single parents in Pennsylvania means taking extra care to ensure their children's future is secure.  

This involves naming a guardian for minor children and setting up trusts to manage their inheritance.  

Utilizing a testamentary trust, which is created through a will, can help manage and protect assets until the children reach adulthood.  

Single parents should also consider life insurance policies with designated beneficiaries to provide financial support for their children. 

How does tax planning for married couples work in Pennsylvania? 

Estate planning for married couples in Pennsylvania includes several tax advantages.  

Jointly held property and assets transferred between spouses are not subject to inheritance tax. However, it's essential to plan for the eventuality of both spouses' passing.  

Establishing joint trusts and making sure both partners have updated wills can streamline the process and reduce taxes.  

How does probate work in Pennsylvania? 

Probate is the legal process of validating a will and distributing the deceased's assets.  

Probate is required in Pennsylvania for estates with assets solely in the decedent's name or without a named beneficiary. The process typically takes about a year but can be longer for complex estates. 

If you don't file probate, assets remain in limbo, causing delays and potential legal issues for heirs. Simplified procedures are available for smaller estates, and certain assets, like jointly owned property and accounts with named beneficiaries, can bypass probate altogether. 

What are the final arrangement & organ donation laws in Pennsylvania? 

In Pennsylvania, estate planning is dictated by state law, which determines who has the right to make final decisions about a person's body and funeral services.  

This right and responsibility go to the following people, in order: a person you name before your death in "an explicit and sincere expression, either verbal or written"; your surviving spouse; or your next of kin.  

You can specify your wishes in a legal document, such as a will or a separate declaration. 

Donating an organ is a voluntary act under Pennsylvania law. If you wish to be an organ donor, you can register your intent through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation or include it in your living will. It’s crucial to communicate your wishes to family members to ensure they are honored. 

Your Pennsylvania estate planning checklist 

  • Last will & testament 

Your last will and testament is a foundational document that outlines how your assets are to be distributed. In Pennsylvania, it must be written and signed by you and witnessed by two individuals. This document helps ensure that your wishes are followed and can designate guardians for minor children. 

  • Healthcare documentation 

Healthcare documentation, including a living will and healthcare power of attorney, allows you to specify your medical care preferences and appoint someone to make decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. These documents are critical for ensuring that your healthcare choices are respected.

  • Trusts 

Trusts are useful for managing assets during and after your lifetime. In Pennsylvania, you can establish revocable or irrevocable trusts. Revocable trusts offer flexibility as you can alter them, while irrevocable trusts provide tax advantages and asset protection but cannot be changed once established. 

  • Power of attorney 

A power of attorney (POA) grants someone the authority to manage your financial affairs if you are unable to do so. In Pennsylvania, a durable POA remains in effect even if you become incapacitated, ensuring that your financial matters are handled without court intervention. 

  • Pre-need guardian 

Appointing a pre-need guardian ensures that a trusted person will manage your personal and property affairs if you become unable to do so. This step is particularly important for parents with minor children or individuals with significant health concerns. 

Get expert financial advice 

Estate planning in Pennsylvania involves understanding costs, taxes, and specific family dynamics. By taking the time to create a comprehensive estate plan, you can ensure your assets are managed and distributed according to your wishes.  

Let Unbiased connect you with a financial advisor for expert financial advice on planning and securing your estate for the future. 


Unbiased team

Our team of writers, who have decades of experience writing about personal finance, including investing and retirement, are here to help you find out what you must know about life’s biggest financial decisions.