Chances are you’ve got a lot going on at the moment.
When someone you love dies, it can feel like getting a new job. You have to organize all your loved one’s belongings, read so many forms and sign so many documents you feel like a lawyer, and make sure the pets have a place to stay — it’s a lot, to say the least.
So, just to be clear that this is what you need and you aren’t wasting your time, this article is about navigating the probate process in Pennsylvania, specifically.
If probate still confuses the heck out of you (which is completely understandable), then you should read our article about what probate is and whether or not you even need it.
It explains if you need a lawyer, how to know if you’re the personal representative or not, and demystifies the process so you can feel confident in your choices.
Because the last thing you want is to go through all of this trouble if you don’t even have to. Believe us.
The link to that blog is right here 👇
Read more: What is Probate, and Do I Even Need It?
On a broader note, probate is just part of the “estate settlement” process people spend an average of over 500 hours and $15,000 on during the first 18 months after someone dies.
That’s an enormous amount of time and responsibility, and having a step-by-step list you can just check off as you go along is a godsend.
That way you know exactly where to begin and when you can call it quits.
You can get that checklist along with an exact idea of everything you need to do when someone passes away right here.
Now that we have that settled, let’s get specific about probate in Pennsylvania.
What is Probate in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania probate is the formal, court-supervised process of carrying out one's last wishes by validating their last will & testament (if any), resolving any outstanding debts or taxes, and distributing any remaining assets to rightful heirs.
Probate can be complicated, but it’s just the legal collecting of everything someone owns and officially giving it to the right people (and giving the government their cut, of course).
It begins with contacting the court and ends with all estate taxes paid, death certificates filed, and assets officially distributed to rightful heirs and surviving family members.
Probate exists to prevent families from jumping in like a bunch of sharks to claim whatever cars, bank accounts, and other assets a family member had, and to make sure things like a death certificate, funeral arrangements, and estate taxes are handled correctly.
And because probate is a legal process— the rules and procedures vary regionally based on local laws, applicable forms & other established practices.
Which is why we’ve put together this helpful resource as a comprehensive guide for anyone navigating probate in Pennsylvania.
What Probate in Pennsylvania looks like
Pennsylvania probate follows this general flow: contact the court, get appointed as personal representative, submit will if it exists, inventory and submit valuations of all relevant assets, have the court and beneficiaries approve it, and then distribute the assets to beneficiaries.
- And as the executor or personal representative of an estate, you are also responsible for:
- ✔️ Filing a petition for probate to the probate court in the country of the deceased
- ✔️ Deciding if there are any probate assets
- ✔️ Managing and locating these assets
- ✔️ Valuing and appraising the estate’s assets
- ✔️ Receiving payments and paying taxes on behalf of the estate
- ✔️ Setting up an estate checking account and EIN
- ✔️ Interpreting the will
- ✔️ Communicating and working with heirs/beneficiaries
- ✔️ If there is no will, then distributing assets according to local law
- ✔️ Valuing and appraising the estate’s assets
- ✔️ Officially notifying creditors
- ✔️ Following all legal deadlines
- ✔️ Paying funeral bills
- ✔️ Filing estate tax returns
- ✔️ Submitting death certificate
- ✔️ Submitting distribution receipts and officially closing the estate
There are even more tiny steps in between, but that’s the gist.
Yes, probate can feel like a lot, but remember that the process is often spread out over a year and you're even entitled to be paid executor fees as a portion of the estate (the collective value of all qualifying assets).
And having to manage all of these little details is exactly why having tools that walk you through every single step and ensure you don’t miss anything are so helpful.
They can help tremendously by:
- Showing you every last thing you need to do when someone passes (that way you know when you’re done).
- Giving you an exact list of deadlines and timelines for your particular state and jurisdiction.
- Highlighting other key details in local laws you should be aware of.
- Keeping all of your related tasks in one spot on your phone.
- Making sure you calculate the value of your assets correctly (miscalculation is a common and costly mistake).
So if skipping the headaches by having a step-by-step guide of what to do when someone passes in your particular jurisdiction sounds good to you, then click here.
Dying without a will in Pennsylvania
Also known as “passing intestate”
When someone dies without a Will in Pennsylvania, state law directs who gets the decedent’s property.
This is known as dying intestate, and when this happens the property is governed by intestate succession laws.
Generally, only spouses, registered domestic partners, and blood relatives inherit under intestate succession, while unmarried partners and friends do not.
The general order of relatives who will inherit the decedent’s probate property is:
- Surviving spouse
- Children and grandchildren
- Aunts and uncles
- Other extended family
And it’s important to remember that many types of assets may be inherited outside of the probate process, regardless of whether there is a will or not.
For those items, intestate succession laws do not apply.
Some of those examples include:
- Property titled to a living trust
- Life insurance proceeds with a named beneficiary
- Funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account with a named beneficiary
- Securities held in a transfer-on-death account
- Payable-on-death bank accounts
- Property owned in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety with someone else
Read More: What assets are considered probate?
How much Probate in Pennsylvania costs
Probate and settling an estate generally costs an average of $15,000 unless you use tools that make it easier, but remember that the money you will be spending will be the estate’s money, not your own.
Do I have to pay the personal representative?
Yes. Being an executor or personal representative takes a lot of time, so they are usually compensated by the estate in return. If you’re doing all of the work for an estate in Pennsylvania and have been appointed the representative or administrator, then that person is you!
Do I need to hire a lawyer for Probate in Pennsylvania?
Lawyers can easily cost thousands of dollars during the estate settlement process, but if you know there is going to be a fight over any assets or have a complicated estate, it is definitely worth it.
Here’s how to think through it:
- You can absolutely prepare all of the probate forms yourself and do this on your own. Some states may require a lawyer for submitting them to probate court, but Pennsylvania doesn’t.
- A lawyer will save you time and headaches.
- A lawyer can make sure you don’t make big tax mistakes or miss any deadlines.
- The larger and more complex your estate, the more reasons there are to get a lawyer.
- While there are apps and tools that make probate much faster and more manageable for individuals, that doesn’t negate a lawyer’s worth. Nor does a lawyer mean using these tools is pointless. In fact, using something that lets you quickly value and catalog assets, communicate easily, and walk through the process step-by-step can lower the number of hours your lawyer spends, dropping the legal fees and improving the experience for everyone.
Read more: When Should I Hire a Lawyer for Probate?