The Supreme Court has adopted a new Pa.O.C. Rule 5.50 governing the form and contents of petitions to settle small estates in accordance with 20 Pa.C.S. § 3102, the new rule to be effective on October 1, 2020. A note has also been added to Rule 2.4 with a cross-reference to the new Rule 5.50. “Order Amending the Note to Rule 2.4 and Adopting Rule 5.50 of the Pennsylvania Orphans’ Court Rules; No. 847 Supreme Court Rules Doc.” (8/18/2020), 50 Pa.B. 4387 (8/29/2020).
The proposed version of this new rule was published as “Proposed Adoption of Pa. O.C. Rule 5.50,” 49 Pa.B. 444 (2/2/2019). In a previous commentary, “Proposed Rule for Small Estate Petitions and Rights of Creditors,” it was suggested that the proposed version of Rule 5.50(b)(2) was problematic, because it required the disclosure of all assets of the estate, and then added that “If it appears that all creditors cannot be paid in full, then include all other assets in which the decedent had an interest as a joint tenant with right of survivorship, together with the value of each such asset and decedent’s fractional interest therein.” The rule that was adopted deleted that sentence, but added a clause to exclude from disclosure “property distributable under 20 Pa.C.S. § 3101.”
The exclusion of property distributable under § 3101 from the small estate petition is curious, because that section is not supposed to be determinative of the rights of beneficiaries of the estate. For example, § 3101(a), which allows unpaid wages not exceeding $10,000 to be paid directly to family members, states that “Any person to whom payment is made shall be answerable therefor to anyone prejudiced by an improper distribution.” Similar provisions appear in subsections (b), (c), and (d). A small estate petition would seem to be a proper vehicle for disclosing distributions under § 3101 and allowing interested parties to object to any improper distribution. At the very least, a petitioner should be able to report that a beneficiary has received funds in accordance with § 3101 and ask that the beneficiary’s share of the assets to be distributed under the petition should be adjusted accordingly. And yet the Supreme Court has apparently excluded any consideration of those issues from the small estate petition.