How does probate court work?

judge holding gavel

The matter of what happens to someone’s estate after they pass away can be complicated. Regardless if they left behind a valid will, it will typically go through the probate process where a court will act as a legal safeguard to ensure that all remaining debts and estate taxes are paid as well as the transferral of assets to beneficiaries. However, the function of probate court, as well as the allocation of the deceased’s assets, can vary depending on if the deceased had a valid will. This is essential because the validity of a will can be the deciding factor when it comes to how exactly the estate of the deceased will be managed. If you are curious to know more about the functions of probate court and how to navigate it properly, do not hesitate to contact the Montgomery County, PA probate attorneys from Friedman Schuman to schedule a consultation.

What is the difference between a valid will and an invalid will in probate court?

If there are specific goals that someone would want to be carried out before they pass away, it is paramount that they leave behind a valid will. This will ensure their assets are distributed according to their wishes. Usually, a personal representative, legally referred to as an executor, is chosen by the deceased before they pass away. The executor is responsible for administering the will, which includes making sure all the assets of the departed are accounted for and that all outstanding debts and estate taxes are paid. In addition to this, they must also make sure that the beneficiaries named in the will receive the assets they are entitled to. Throughout this process, probate court will act as a medium for the executor to carry out the instructions of the will. However, if any discrepancies arise, such as assets that were not accounted for or previously unknown debts or taxes that were not paid, the court may step in to ensure that these issues are resolved.

On the other hand, if the deceased did not leave behind a will before their passing, or the will is invalid in any capacity, probate will handle the estate of the departed according to Pennsylvania state law. For example, in the case of an invalid or nonexistent will, the court will appoint someone, typically a spouse or a relative, to function as the administrator of the estate. Their role would be very similar to that of an executor, with one of the key distinctions being that instead of facilitating the transfer of assets to the named beneficiaries in a will, they would distribute the assets according to Pennsylvania’s intestacy laws. This means the assets of the deceased would be passed on to direct living relatives. That said, based on these laws, a spouse would be entitled to the entirety, if not a significant portion, of the deceased’s estate.

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