Understanding Probate in Pennsylvania

November 17, 2020

Probate is the legal process for processing and administering a person’s will after they pass away. Even when someone dies without a will, the probate court is involved in the distribution of any property and assets left behind. The process can be lengthy, and laws for distribution vary from state to state. Read on to learn about how probate works in Pennsylvania.

What Happens in the Probate Process?

The first step in the probate process is registering the will with the Register of Wills in the decedent’s county of residence. Then, a petition must be filed with the Orphan’s Court. If there is no executor named in the will, the petition should request one.

All heirs and beneficiaries of the estate must be notified. At this point, the court can give the executor the authority to act on the behalf of the estate by issuing a Letter Testamentary. Notice of probate must be published in a newspaper circulating where the decedent resided. This is to alert any creditors of the decedent’s passing. After publication of the notice of probate, creditors have one year to make a claim against the estate.

The probate court will inventory the estate’s assets and evaluate claims made against it. After taxes on the estate and any creditors have been paid, a petition can be filed to close probate. Only then can the beneficiaries of the estate be paid.

What Assets Go Through Probate?

Not all assets must go through the probate process. Many assets, such as life insurance policies, have named beneficiaries, and they may be transferred directly without needing the approval of the probate court. Other assets that may be transferred directly include payable-on-death (POD) bank accounts, retirement plans, living trust assets, and anything that was held in joint tenancy with another person. Assets that must go through probate are typically the ones that were owned solely by the decedent.

Up to $10,000 from financial institutions may be released to a survivor of the decedent without the authorization of the probate court. Survivors must be able to show the bank a certified copy of the death certificate along with proof that funeral expenses have been paid.

Are There Any Shortcuts to the Probate Process?

Probate can be an expensive process, and in Pennsylvania, the law allows a shortcut for small estates. This can be used in situations where the property of the estate to be distributed is worth $50,000 or less. This amount does not include real estate, certain vehicles, funeral costs, and certain payments that the family is entitled to. The executor of the estate can file a written request asking the court to grant use of the simplified probate procedure. If approved, the executor may distribute the assets without the lengthy process required by normal probate.

The probate process can be long and daunting, but a lawyer can help. An accomplished lawyer can answer any questions about estate planning and executing a will.

Chester County Wills and Estates Lawyers at Eckell Sparks Assist Clients with All Aspects of Probate

The probate process is difficult, but we can help. Our experienced Chester County wills and estates lawyers at Eckell, Sparks, Levy, Auerbach, Monte, Sloane, Matthews & Auslander, P.C. help clients with estate planning. We will address all of your concerns. Call us at 610-565-3701 or contact us online for a free consultation today. Located in Media and West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Delaware County, Chester County, and Montgomery County.