Probate is the legal process that occurs after an individual’s death. An individual’s estate can go through the probate process if he or she dies with or without a valid will. If the decedent dies with a will, the estate can pass through probate and assets can be distributed according to the terms outlined in the will. Conversely, if a decedent dies without a will in Pennsylvania, probate law can then kick in and dictate how the decedent’s estate assets can be distributed. While the amount or types of assets the decedent owns can determine if the probate process is necessary, it is important to consult with an experienced probate attorney. The attorneys at Friedman Schuman have over 30 years of experience providing clients with assistance in the probate process. If you require legal guidance when handling a probate matter, contact Friedman Schuman today to schedule a consultation.

The probate process

When the probate process begins, the court appoints an individual to handle the administration of the estate. If there is a will, the executor named in the will is usually appointed and ordered by the court. If there is no will, the court can appoint a next of kin or another personal representative to handle the administration of the decedent’s estate.

If there is a will, an executor can take the following steps to begin the probate process:

  • File the decedent’s will in the Register of Wills.
  • Complete and File a Petition for Probate. The executor can complete and file a Petition for Probate with the local probate court, or “Orphans’ Court.” This petition is a request to be formally appointed as the executor of the estate by the court. If there is no will, the court can appoint someone to serve as the Personal Representative of the estate. Once this step is taken, the court requires that notice be given to all heirs and beneficiaries of the estate.
  • Publish a Notice of Probate. A notice of probate should be published in a newspaper where the decedent lived. From the time the notice is published, creditors have one year to establish a claim against the estate.
  • Perform a Complete and Accurate Inventory. The executor or personal representative has a duty to inventory the estate’s assets. This list of all inventoried assets must be filed with the court within 9 months of the appointment of the executor or personal representative.
  • Court Order Approving Distribution of Assets. The court can issue an order advising that an executor or personal representative commence distribution of the estate’s assets to the beneficiaries.

Is probate required for all estates?

The number of assets in a decedent’s estate can dictate if the probate process is required prior to the distribution of assets to the rightful beneficiaries. Some assets that can go to a surviving spouse and/or child without probate can include:

  • Up to $10,000.00 in a bank account
  • Up to $5,000.00 in wages paid by an employer to the employee’s surviving spouse or dependents
  • Life insurance benefits up to $11,000.00

What are the responsibilities of an executor or personal representative?

Since the executor or personal representative distributes and closes the decedent’s estate, he or she can be responsible for the following tasks:

  • Assemble all of the decedent’s assets and take an inventory. The court may require an audit of the estate’s assets to make sure everything is accounted for and that the appropriate valuation is set forth.
  • Pay all of the estate debts. If a decedent died with debt in his or her name, those may be the first liabilities paid by the estate.
  • Distribute the assets. If the decedent died with a will, the executor can distribute the assets to the beneficiaries as indicated within the will. If there is no executor, the Personal Representative assumes this role. This can become a little more complicated because there may be multiple parties asserting a claim to the estate and those claims should be investigated and proven valid.

Contact a Montgomery County probate attorney

Friedman Schuman provides legal services to clients in Pennsylvania for all of their Estate Administration and Estate Planning needs. Estate administration can be very complex, time-consuming, and document-heavy. The probate process deserves the attention of a knowledgeable legal team, as it can quickly become complicated. Friedman Schuman has over 30 years of experience guiding clients towards closure after the passing of a loved one. Contact the attorneys at Friedman Schuman today to discuss your legal needs.