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What Is Probate Court?

When people pass away in Pennsylvania, their estates generally get settled in probate court. The executor is responsible for inventorying and valuing the estate’s assets. They must also pay any taxes and bills and distribute the assets according to the will or intestacy laws. Working with someone who has a deep understanding of the process can help prevent you from running into any issues with the court.

Understanding probate

In the state of Pennsylvania, estates can go through simplified or regular probate, depending on their size. Beneficiaries cannot receive assets until probate is complete, though some exceptions may apply. Once probate is finished, the assets are transferred immediately.

Simplified probate

Small estates with $50,000 or less in assets can go through simplified probate in Pennsylvania. The $50,000 limit does not include real estate or money used for funeral expenses. Families can also take up to $10,000 without the money going through probate. To begin simplified probate, the executor must submit a request in writing. If approved, the executor pays the creditors and then distributes the assets according to the will. In general, simplified probate is much faster than regular probate.

Regular probate

Estates valued at more than $50,000 go through regular probate. If there is a will, the executor must file it with the Register of Wills. When a person dies without a will, someone will need to act as the estate administrator. Then, the representative must file a petition for probate. Whether or not there is a will, the representative must still notify the decedent’s relatives and the public that the court is beginning probate.

The public can contest the will, although they must have proper standing and grounds for doing so. Grounds for contesting a will in Pennsylvania include forgery, fraud, undue influence, and improper execution. If someone contests a will, the court will haul probate and evaluate the validity of the claim.

After ruling on the claim, probate can continue. The executor values the estate and pays the creditors. Then, the beneficiaries receive the remaining property. If there is a will, the executor follows it when dividing the property.

Probate exemptions

While estates must undergo probate, some assets can skip the process. The executor can transfer these assets immediately without seeking approval from the court. Exemptions include outstanding wages up to $10,000, up to $10,000 to a spouse or close relatives, and living trust assets. Also, payable-on-death accounts, including life insurance policies and retirement plans, do not have to go through probate. Co-owned assets are also exempt.

Get help navigating Pennsylvania probate court

Whether an estate goes through simplified or regular probate, the process can be confusing. Many people seek legal help so they can navigate probate without any issues. A lawyer can help with various aspects of probate. Among other things, they can ensure the will’s validity and handle any disputes. An attorney can help the process go as smoothly as possible.

Contact us here 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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