November 22, 2017

Probate in Pennsylvania

Helping clients through the probate process is one area of our practice.  It’s a specialized area of law and our many years of experience can result in an estate being probated without incident or major delay.

After a person owning assets in his or her name alone dies, the probate or estate administration process is started by a personal representative who takes on the job of handling the decedent’s assets and settling the decedent’s affairs.

Not all assets need to pass to survivors through the probate process.  Those assets exempt from the process include:

  • Assets held in joint ownership between spouses or with others with right of survivorship,
  • Bank accounts held in joint ownership or in trust for another,
  • Assets with designated beneficiaries such as life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs and retirement plans with named beneficiaries are not normally subject to probate, and
  • Assets held in a trust are governed by the terms of the trust, rather than the decedent’s will.

An estate must be settled whether there is a will or if the person dies intestate (doesn’t have a will).  The major benefit of a will is that the assets of the deceased will pass (if the will is done properly) to the assigned beneficiaries.  If there is no will, the assets will pass to the next of kin as spelled out under state statute.

The probate process exists to prevent fraud in the handling of assets and debts and to protect creditors and beneficiaries. It’s supposed to make the process of settling an estate more open and transparent.  Beneficiaries get notice of the estate administration and access to all documents filed by the estate.

In Pennsylvania, the Cost of Probate Includes:

  • Filing fees for opening the estate
  • The costs of advertising the estate
  • Filing fees for inventory of estate assets and other papers
  • Legal fees for the attorney handling the estate work, which may include preparing various death tax returns
  • A commission which can be charged by the personal representative

The probate process normally does not take a long time, compared to other states. Personal representatives have broad powers to administer estates efficiently. They can handle most issues (such as selling assets, paying debts and expenses) without having to get court approval for every transaction. Personal representatives need only file an inventory of estate assets and periodic status reports stating whether the estate administration has been completed. Accounting of estate transactions to beneficiaries and heirs can be done informally or filed with the court.

The process ends when the beneficiaries receive of their proper share of the estate and the release of the personal representative from further responsibility for administering the estate.

Contact Halligan & Keaton Today

If you have any questions about probate, or would like help in probating an estate, contact our office for a free consultation so we can discuss your situation.