Probate Law in Pennsylvania
What Is a Probate Law?
A probate is a legal process that determines the validity and administration of a last will and testament. When an individual leaves behind assets, the court appoints an executor (if one is not named in the will). In either case, the appointed official collects all remaining assets, pays off any remaining liabilities, and disperses the remaining assets to beneficiaries listed in the will or to beneficiaries designated by the executor (if no will is present), all according to Pennsylvania probate law.
How Does Pennsylvania Probate Law and the Probate Process Work?
Locating the Will
In most cases, the decedent leaves clear direction regarding the location of the last will and testament or files one with a primary attorney. However, sometimes people have to go digging for one. In other cases, there is no will and the Pennsylvania court-appointed executor must handle all assets.
It is also possible that the deceased created a living trust instead. A living trust is a document that places all assets into a trust and that transfer to a designated trustee upon death. Living trusts do not require any probation or courts. Many parties elect to go this route for the sake of convenience and avoiding drawn-out court battles.
A county Register of Wills and Orphans’ Court handles cases related to probate disputes in Pennsylvania. If family members or others enter claims for property that goes to probate, a judge might decide for everyone involved.
Notifying the Court
Notifying the court to open the estate is the next step. The Pennsylvania probate law court clerk can handle this step, unless there is a named executor.
After the court receives notification, a scheduled hearing takes place. This officiates the executor appointee and grants him or her legal authority to operate on behalf of the last will and testament.
If there is no will and no designated executor, the court chooses the executor. Generally, the surviving spouse is first in line. After that, any adult children, parents, or siblings receive consideration.
The executor must identify the decedent’s remaining assets. To do this, she or he reviews any related banking or financial documents and any other personal documents that could lead them toward recovering assets. Some examples of documents to collect are insurance records, titles, stock portfolios, and tax returns or filings.
To freeze and later close accounts, the executor must notify any financial institutions with outstanding accounts of the individual’s death. If there are any physical valuables in the decedent’s property, it is not uncommon for the executor to collect these items to prevent theft or damage.
The executor then determines the valuation of each item of the estate. This can be a lengthy process depending on the ease of locating all assets, including real estate, stocks, bonds, etc. Notifying creditors is the next step.
Generally, the executor notifies creditors associated with the estate so they can make a claim if they have outstanding balances. Creditors have a specific time frame in which to file a claim, and this window can vary depending on state law.
The personal representative should publish a notice to creditors once a week for up to 3 weeks in a newspaper. The Statutes of Pennsylvania give those parties up to one year from publication to submit claims.
Squaring Away Final Payments
The executor pays any funeral expenses (unless the family covers them) and any debts or taxes from the estate. The executor determines which creditor claims are accurate. Then, the executor squares away any outstanding debts to clear the estate of all obligations before being dispersed according to the will.
Proceeding With the Court
After valuing all the decedent’s assets and paying all outstanding debts, the executor submits a report detailing all estate spending to the Pennsylvania court. At this point, a judge reviews the materials. Assuming everything was done correctly, they render a decision to clear the executor to move forward with the final step.
Executing the Last Will and Testament
At this point, the executor disperses the assets to the designated beneficiaries laid out in the will. Depending on how detailed the will is, this could either be a simple process or it may divide the remaining family. A Pennsylvania probate law attorney can help you or a loved one avoid mistakes and counsel you on the best course in the event of a family estate battle.
The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania provides a comprehensive list of forms to consider. Non-probate property expressed in the will becomes distributed as expected. The details always depend on the case, but you might expect the following under typical circumstances:
- Filing a petition with the Register of Wills
- Payment of filing fees
- Completion of an Estate Information Sheet
- Swearing an oath as an executor or administrator
- Distributing assets according to the testamentary
If there is no last will and testament, the executor assigns beneficiaries in accordance with Pennsylvania state laws. Generally speaking, the surviving spouse is first in line to receive any remaining assets. After that, the decedent’s children come next. Any surviving siblings would be next. From there, the executor works down through the surviving family based on their direct relation.
Is Probate Law Necessary?
No. There are alternatives to probating a will, but this really depends on the circumstances surrounding the decedent. The larger, more complex estates require attention to detail and patience as the executor works through all the different assets. Smaller estates are straightforward, which means involving the Pennsylvania probate law court may not be necessary to settle the estate.
Laws passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly allow for a simplified process for estates less than $50,000. Any number over this amount may have to go through an extensive series of legal hearings and filings.
What Are the Differences Between a Living Trust and a Will?
Living trusts are a way to avoid probation. However, this is only one of the primary differences between a living trust and a will. Another main difference is that a living trust is only as good as the assets therein. This means that if you pass away without funding the trust with your assets, it is practically worthless. On the other hand, you do not have to fund a will, as you merely choose where to transfer your assets upon your death. It is important to note that there is no perfect solution for everyone.When deciding between a living trust and a will, bear in mind your risk of losing mental soundness or how close you may be to death.
Setting up where your assets go after you die is an important decision. This is why you should consult with a Pennsylvania probate law attorney to make the correct decision.
Work With an Experienced Local Probate Law Attorney in Pennsylvania
Probate law attorneys assist with valuing your total assets and can provide insight into what the best move would be for you. Are you in need of a Pennsylvania probate law attorney who can help you and preserve the future of your family? We can even help you connect with an attorney across Pennsylvania state lines.
Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced probate law lawyer in your area!