Probate is a legal process that occurs after someone passes away, and it involves the distribution of their assets and the settlement of their debts.
In Pennsylvania, probate can seem like a complex and daunting procedure. However, understanding the basics of how probate works can help demystify the process.
Initiation of probate
Probate typically begins when the executor, named in the deceased person’s will, files a petition with the Register of Wills in the county where the deceased person lived.
Notification of heirs and creditors
Once probate starts, the court will notify all interested parties, including heirs and creditors. Creditors have a specific period, usually four months, to submit claims against the estate.
Inventory and appraisal
The executor must prepare an inventory of the deceased person’s assets, including real estate, bank accounts, investments and personal property. The court may require an appraisal of certain assets to determine their value.
Payment of debts and taxes
Before distributing assets to beneficiaries, the executor must pay off the deceased person’s debts, including funeral expenses and taxes. Pennsylvania has an inheritance tax, which applies to the value of the assets transferred to heirs. This can range from 4.5% up to 15% depending on the situation. The executor must pay these taxes out of the estate.
Distribution of assets
Once the executor settles all debts and taxes, they can distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries according to the deceased person’s will or according to Pennsylvania’s intestate succession laws. This distribution process is subject to court approval.
After the executor settles everything, he or she submits a final detailed accounting to the court.
Once the court reviews and approves the final accounting, the probate process closes. At this point, the estate is officially settled, and the executor’s duties come to an end.
To help ensure a smoother probate process, it is important to have a well-drafted will and choose an executor wisely. Ultimately, the goal of probate is to ensure that everything happens in accordance with the deceased’s wishes while satisfying any outstanding obligations.