When someone dies, their estate goes through a process called probate. Probate is the court-supervised process of transferring property at death under the terms of a will, or, if there is no will, under Pennsylvania law.

The probate process begins with going to the Register of Wills Office in your county courthouse to file the Will (if there is one). The clerk will confirm the appointment of the personal representative (“Executor”) or institution named in the Will to administer the estate and then issue “short certificates” which allow the personal representative to act on behalf of the estate in dealing with banks and other entities. If a person dies without a will, the court will appoint someone to be the “Administrator” of the estate.

There is a filing fee payable to the local county court, based on the estimated value of the estate.

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The duties of the personal representative in probating the estate include:

  • Opening an estate bank account for payment of bills of the deceased; Gathering the assets and determining their value;
  • Advertising the estate;
  • Giving notice to all beneficiaries;
  • Paying the funeral expenses, last debts, inheritance and estate taxes and the expenses of administration; and finally
  • Distributing the assets to those named as beneficiaries in the will or to the legal beneficiaries if there is no will.

The personal representative is required to file a periodic accounting with the probate court. State law establishes deadlines for filing the required documents. The personal representative is entitled to a reasonable fee or commission under Pennsylvania law.

Click here for a checklist showing the duties of the Executor

Click here to download the Social Security Administration’s Document on “What to do when a family member dies.”

Click here to learn how to transfer title to a vehicle after the owner’s death

TOP TEN REASONS TO CREATE AN ESTATE PLAN

You may think that estate plans are just for the rich or elderly. In reality, everyone needs an estate plan. Here’s why:

  1. Provide support and financial stability for your surviving spouse, children, and grandchildren.
  2. Preserve your wealth for later generations.
  3. Ensure that your wishes are carried out when you can no longer manage your affairs. It’s important to have both a power of attorney and living will.
  4. Support a favorite charity or cause with a gift of money, securities, or other property.
  5. Ensure that your assets are distributed in a timely fashion, with minimum legal hassle. Naming an executor—someone who will tie up loose ends—as well as other representatives, such as trustees or custodians, can smooth the distribution of assets.
  6. Minimize the taxes and expenses that can be incurred as part of transferring assets after death.
  7. Provide sufficient cash to meet expenses of estate administration.
  8. Ensure that the beneficiaries named on your life insurance and retirement plans are still the people you want to benefit.
  9. Avoid family squabbles over your estate.
  10. Ensure that your last wishes are followed regarding organ donation, burial and/or cremation.