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Pennsylvania Probate FAQs – Wills

Feb. 24, 2020

If you are planning your estate, you probably have some questions about probate in Pennsylvania. You want to know how to simplify the process, which assets are exempt and more. Get details on the probate process in the state. Your attorney can also advise you when you are planning your estate or preparing to take a will through probate.

Facts About Probate in Pennsylvania

When the decedent has a will, the court accepts and validates it during probate. Then, the executor pays the bills and distributes the remaining assets. If the decedent does not have a will, the court appoints an administrator who inventories the property and pays the debts. Then, the administrator follows the intestate succession rules to distribute the property.

Initiating Probate

Upon death, the decedent’s will must be filed with the county’s Register of Wills. Next, survivors file a Petition for Probate at a probate court. Survivors also must file this petition if the decedent passed away without a will. After the court issues Letters of Testamentary and a Notice of Probate is published in the local newspaper, the probate process will begin.

Simplified Probate

Estates that have $50,000 or less in assets go through simplified probate in Pennsylvania. Real property including land, real estate and final expenses are not included in the $50,000. The executor files a written request to go through simplified probate. If the local probate court approves the request, the executor transfers the property to the beneficiaries without going through probate.

Assets that Do Not Pass Through Probate

Not all assets pass through the probate court in Pennsylvania. Typically, only assets that individuals own alone go through probate. Property that has been transferred to a living trust, proceeds from life insurance, retirement accounts, bank accounts payable on death and jointly owned property does not go through probate. Also, securities the decedent held in a transfer-on-death account do not go through probate.

Probate without A Will

Pennsylvania follows the law of intestate success when people pass away without wills. If the decedent was married without children, all assets go to the surviving spouse. In cases where the decedent has children but not a spouse, the assets are evenly distributed among the children. When someone dies with a spouse and children, the first $30,000 goes to the spouse and then the spouse receives half of the estate’s remaining balance. The rest goes to the children.

Some people have spouses and children from a past relationship and the marriage. Half the estate goes to the spouse and the remaining is split among the children. When the spouse and parents survive, the spouse receives the first $30,000 from the estate. The remaining estate is split in half, with half going to the spouse and half going to the parents.

Challenging a Will During Probate

Potential heirs can contest wills during probate in Pennsylvania. People must have legal standing to contest a will. For example, children often have legal standing to contest a will, while a close friend might not. An attorney can provide guidance when determining legal standing.

Next, potential heirs must have grounds to contest the will. Potential grounds include proving the person was not of sound mind or was unduly influenced when creating the will. If the court invalidates the will, it uses intestate succession laws to distribute the property. However, if the court determines the will is valid, the assets are distributed based on the document.

Seek Legal Counsel to Help with Probate

Probate in Pennsylvania can be time-consuming and confusing. An attorney can advise you to help you simplify the process and ensure that your assets are distributed based on your wishes. Also, if you are a surviving heir about to go through probate, you can seek legal counsel. It is wise to know your rights and what to expect during the process.

Call us for more information from Kim A. Bodnar, Attorney at Law or to schedule a consultation in our office in Pittsburgh.

NOTE: This is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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