Probate refers to the legal process that occurs when an individual passes away. It serves to distribute any assets to the decedent’s  family or heirs while also covering any debts left by the decedent. An experienced probate attorney, like attorney Dan Hill, is a wonderful resource to more fully understand probate.
Things can get complicated without a will. Without the guidance of a will and a designated administrator or executor to distribute assets, multiple parties may make a claim upon the estate, resulting in arguments and drawn-out litigation.
Therefore, it first must be determined if the deceased individual had a will prior to their passing. If so, the items of their estate get distributed based on the instructions left in the will.
But if a person passes without a will, Pennsylvania probate laws will be applied to decide how the assets will be distributed.
What is Probate in Pennsylvania?

Probate Process for Pennsylvania

The appointment of an administrator or executor in Pennsylvania selects one person to responsibly handle the probate process. Since the death of an individual and the handling of their estate can be stressful and detail-oriented, the appointment of an administrator or executor can bring peace of mind to both the individual’s family and the courts.

First, Pennsylvania law requires the executor of the will to appear in court and file a petition of probate and apply for letters testamentary. In the event the deceased individual left no will, a family member can appear and seek letters of administration and be appointed as the administrator of the estate.

Both the letters testamentary and letters of administration serve to authorize either an executor or administrator as the person in charge of administering the individual’s estate. The difference? The administrator gets appointed by the court rather than the wishes of the individual’s will.

Once the personal representative has been appointed and the letters testamentary or letters of administration have been filed, the court will issue an official statement verifying the executor or administrator possesses the legal authority to act on behalf of the individual’s estate called a short certificate. The representative will then present the short certificate to any agencies involved with asset transfer or handling of benefits.

The representative will need at least one short certificate for every agency involved in the asset distribution process, which can include organizations like insurance companies, transfer agents, and banks.

Now the estate can be opened through a petition for probate. If the individual did create a will, the court will verify its authenticity, although this step can be skipped if the will was properly notarized. The petition of probate will be reviewed and, upon approval, the administrator or executor will be sworn to officiate the administration of the estate. Getting help from a qualified Johnstown probate attorney to select an executor and make a will, will alleviate the probate process.

Notifying the Beneficiaries

The executor or administrator begins their task by notifying the individual’s heirs and everyone listed in the will, as all those people qualify as beneficiaries of the probate process.

Using a written notice form provided by the register of wills office, the representative mails the notices to the beneficiaries and files a certification of completion with the court as proof that everyone that needs to be notified has been notified. The representative will also handle the publication of legal notices to announce the estate has been opened, starting the one-year deadline for creditors to file claims against the estate for unpaid debts.

These debts can include things like creditors, taxes, and any funeral expenses accrued after the individual’s passing.

Listing the Assets

Next, the representative works to identify and assemble the assets into an inventory that gets filed with the court. This comprehensive inventory must list all the individual’s assets and their respective values at the time of the individual’s passing. In addition to funds, the assets can include real estate and insurance policies. Once again guidance from an experienced Johnstown probate attorney is often a welcome help in understanding this responsibility.

Viewing the Debts

Once the assets have been tallied and valued, the representative must address any existing debts to be paid. These debts can include any federal and state inheritance taxes, legal fees, and a commission to the representative for handling the estate business. When those debts have been settled, the remainders will be distributed to the beneficiaries and heirs.

Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax

As of January 2022, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue lists the following Pennsylvania inheritance tax rates:

• 0 percent on transfers to a surviving spouse or to a parent from a child aged 21 or younger;
• 4.5 percent on transfers to direct descendants and lineal heirs;
• 12 percent on transfers to siblings; and
• 15 percent on transfers to other heirs, except charitable organizations, exempt institutions, and government entities exempt from tax.

Any property owned jointly between spouses is exempt from inheritance tax.

If you have concerns about probate, creating a will, or any other estate planning, contact Dan Hill, an experienced Johnstown probate attorney with The Hill Group at (814) 245-3832 or use our online contact form.