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Understanding Probate of an Estate in Pennsylvania

Probate Feasterville PAIn the early 1850s, Charles Dickens published his popular serialized novel Bleak House, which deals with the British court system.

At the center of the book is a court case called Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, a battle over an inheritance that drags on over several generations.

Dickens used the plot to satirize the court system of his time, but 160 years later and one ocean away, there’s something about the story that rings true: not making your wishes clear can make things difficult for your heirs.

That’s where the PA probate system comes in.  Probate – from the Latin for “prove the will” is the process of ensuring your assets are passed on according to the terms of your will. It can be a very simple process, or more complicated, depending on the circumstances.

Probate in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s probate system is there to make sure an estate is distributed according to the decedent’s wishes, and that the executor meets the requirements for settling that estate. Assets are collected, debts and taxes are paid, and property is passed onto heirs.

This process can take a few months, or it can take more than a year, depending on the complexity of the estate, and whether the decedent used proper planning in setting up their estate.

Without a plan, you run the risk of errors, higher tax liability and court involvement. Completing probate is a multi-step process, and one that can run more smoothly when you work with an elder law attorney.

After the decedent’s death, the executor of the will must take the will and a certified copy of the death certificate to the county register of wills. The register of wills will have you take an oath of office as executor, and give you documentation that allows you to act on behalf of the estate.

Dealing With Pennsylvania Probate Cases

After the estate is open,  the administration process can begin. This process involves:

  • Identifying, collecting and valuing all the decedent’s assets.
  • Notifying beneficiaries and other individuals with an interest in the estate.
  • Filing certifications of the notices with the Register of Wills.
  • Placing estate advertising.
  • Paying inheritance taxes. In Pennsylvania, estates that pay inheritance taxes within three months of opening the estate can receive a five percent discount. The final inheritance tax return is due nine months after the date of death.

Remaining assets will be distributed in accordance with the will, or in accordance to state law if there is no will. Any disputes or inconsistences may require a formal accounting to the court.

Dealing with probate matters can be complicated, which is why you need an experienced elder law attorney.

Trust the attorneys at Gummer Elder Law to guide you through the process. If you’ve been appointed someone’s executor or administrator, we can work with you to make sure the estate is handled properly.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you and your family through what can often be a complicated, difficult process.