Pennsylvania uses a legal process known as probate to settle the estate of someone who has passed away. Depending on the provisions within the decedent’s estate plan, the circumstances of their death, and the type of assets involved, completing probate proceedings can be complex and require a significant amount of time to conclude.
If you are the designated executor of a loved one’s estate or are in the middle of planning for your own, knowing what to expect during the probate process is crucial. One of your best resources for information is a seasoned Pennsylvania probate attorney. They cannot only share with you how this system works but also some common challenges that could pop up and complicate matters.
Overview of the Pennsylvania Probate Process
While legal counsel can provide the best explanation of the probate process in Pennsylvania and potential impacts on your estate plan or fiduciary responsibilities, the purpose remains the same: to settle a decedent’s estate. To accomplish this goal, the below steps need to be completed by the designated personal representative, administrator, or executor of the estate:
Validation of the Will
If previously designated by the decedent, the chosen personal representative or executor must petition the Register of Wills in the county where the decedent lived to determine the will’s validity. In situations where this document does not exist, the court will appoint an administrator, usually the next of kin.
Short Certificates are then issued by the Register of Wills to give them the authority to act on behalf of the estate left behind.
Administration of the Estate
To administer the estate, all assets get identified, located, and gathered by the estate representative.
State law requires that a notice to creditors and beneficiaries be made through advertising. Pennsylvania statute defines advertising as a published for three consecutive weeks in a newspaper near or in the city where the decedent had lived. In situations of nonresidents, this can be in the area where the Letters of Administration were granted. In addition to this requirement, one must also put notices in county circulated papers if such exists. The court should receive a certification of these notices having been published, and creditors will have a year to act upon them.
An inventorying of the estate assets is another responsibility of the administrator, as is filing for and paying inheritance taxes and any owed income taxes and issuing payment for any outstanding debts owed by the decedent. Property sales will also get handled during this time, and the chosen representative must file periodic updates on the status of these transactions with the county Register of Wills or Orphans Court.
Conducting the Final Accounting and Distribution of Estate Assets
Once the estate has been valued, creditors paid, any property liquified, and the final inheritance tax return approved by the Department of Revenue, a final accounting is necessary before distributing the remaining assets can occur. In situations where beneficiaries or creditors file disputes, or if there are inconsistencies in how the estate was managed, the court may require this to be done formally. This makes the assistance by a seasoned Pennsylvania probate attorney invaluable because they can ensure that conflict issues get avoided and oversee the entire probate process on your behalf.
Contested Will Situations in Pennsylvania
Objecting to a will can happen for many reasons and happens more often than you might realize in Pennsylvania. These situations can be costly to litigate, and if you or a family member contest, there must be legitimate legal standing to take this action. Being unhappy with how the estate assets were distributed is not enough. And a dispute arises early on when involved parties do not agree with the person designated as executor, administrator, or personal representative.
Does Probate Court Handle All Assets Owned by the Decedent?
The purpose of probate is to make transference of title from the decedent to named or designated beneficiaries. There are certain property types and situations that this legal process does not manage, including:
- Life insurance
- Joint tenant property that has survivorship rights
- Financial accounts with “pay on death” or “in trust for” designations
- Retirement accounts with designated beneficiaries already chosen
- Assets held in a trust
Speak with a Skilled Probate Attorney Right Away
The best way to navigate the Pennsylvania probate process is knowledgeable guidance provided by the experienced estate attorneys of Antanavage Farbiarz, PLLC. Set up a consultation and learn how our services can help you manage this complex process and avoid costly mistakes and litigation issues.