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Key facts about Pennsylvania probate

The administration and distribution of an estate during probate typically involves a number of steps. For estate holders and executors, it is important to understand what the probate process entails.

There are a few key facts to note.

The process

The probate process begins with validating the will, if there is one. The executor of the estate, as designated by the will, must submit that document to the County Register of Wills along with a probate petition to the local probate court. The court then formally authorizes the executor as the administrator of the estate by granting him or her Letters Testamentary. Upon receiving the designation, the executor notifies the necessary parties.

The next steps are for the executor to pay off any outstanding debts, file and pay taxes, and finally, distribute the remaining assets to the intended parties in accordance with the stipulations of the will.

Exemptions

While all Pennsylvania estates must undergo a form of probate, certain assets may be exempt from the process. For example, shared assets, such as bank accounts and property with a joint owner, may now belong solely to the surviving owner. Other assets may have a beneficiary designation, such as life insurance plans, trusts, retirement funds or annuities, and may therefore be exempt from probate as well.

The simplified option

Smaller estates may be eligible for the simplified process, which may help to expedite the estate administration. In order to qualify as a small estate, the total value of the estate, minus burial expenses, exempt assets and any connected real estate, must not be more than $50,000. In order to use the simplified process, the executor must file a request with the court.

While the probate process can be lengthy, if there is a solid estate plan in place, the executor may find the process much easier. It may also be beneficial for the executor to familiarize himself or herself with the requirements of the position before beginning.

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