Frequently Asked Questions About Probate in Pennsylvania
It is natural to have basic questions about estate or trust situations. Many people who come to us for legal representation have questions about what to expect along the way. Below are some of the most common questions we receive about probate.
What is a Decedent’s Estate?
A decedent’s estate is all of the property a person owned at the time of death. Estate property includes real estate, bank accounts, investment accounts, personal property and even legal claims which surviving the death of the deceased.
Is probate absolutely necessary?
In all but a few narrow exceptions, property that was titled in the deceased’s name at the time of death must go through probate. Title to most assets, such as real estate and bank investment accounts, cannot be changed without going through probate. Also, financial institutions will not discuss the deceased’s accounts without opening probate and appointing a personal representative.
I was named the agent in the Power of Attorney. Can I use the power of attorney to become the personal representative of the estate?
No. Once a person passes away, the power of attorney becomes void. Appointing a personal representative of an estate is an entirely different legal process. The agent in the power of attorney and the personal representative of an estate are unrelated legal powers.
What is a personal representative?
A personal representative is the person who administers the estate of a decedent. If the decedent had a Will, the personal representative is called an executor or executrix. If the decedent did not have a Will, an administrator or administratrix is appointed.
How do I become the personal representative?
The process begins by filing a petition for grant of letters with the probate court. The first visit to the Register of Wills requires the death certificate, original Will and renunciations signed by the heirs (if there is no Will). Upon taking the oath, the Register of Wills will issue Letters Testamentary of Letters of Administration.
What if there is no Will?
When there is no Will, Pennsylvania intestacy law determines to whom property passes and who will serve as the administrator. In the ideal situation, the family members will nominate an administrator by signing a renunciation form. If the family cannot agree, then a petition must be filed to resolve the dispute.
We are unable to locate the original Will. What is the solution?
You should make every effort to locate the original Will for probate. If you cannot find the original, a petition must be filed to admit a copy of the Will to probate.
How long will probate take?
Settling an uncontested estate takes anywhere from 9 months to 18 months. However, property can often be transferred before the probate process is fully complete.
What legal duties does a personal representative have?
Personal representatives have many legal duties under Pennsylvania law. The personal representative undertakes a fiduciary duty to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the decedent’s creditors and the beneficiaries or the heirs of the decedent. It is very important to comply with Pennsylvania law. If a personal representative breaches their fiduciary duty, they can be held personally liable for any mistakes or wrongful acts.
Do I need to open probate in another state if my loved one had out-of-state property?
You may need to begin probate in any state where the decedent owned property. In Pennsylvania, we refer to out of state probate as an “ancillary estate.” Local counsel may be needed in that state.
Can I receive a fee for administering a loved one’s estate?
Generally, yes. Most of the time, the Last Will and Testament will state that the personal representative may take a fee. If there is no Will, Pennsylvania law permits a “reasonable fee”. We can help you determine what is a reasonable fee. Some personal representatives choose to forego taking a fee, especially if they are entitled to receive a share of the estate.
What is the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax?
This is a tax imposed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania upon all of a deceased’s property in the probate estate. The tax is imposed on the net value of the estate after payment of debts and the expenses of probate. The amount of the tax is determined by the relationship of the deceased person to the individual receiving property (e.g., spouses at 0%, children at 4.5%, etc.).
What is the Inheritance Tax Discount Deadline?
The Commonwealth provides at 5% discount for inheritance taxes paid within three (3) months of the date of death. It is important to avoid delays in starting probate to take advantage of this discount, among other reasons.
As a probate law firm for estate executors, we help settle estates efficiently and reduce stress. If you know someone faced with a probate process or roadblocks to an estate property sale, please have them contact us for a free evaluation at:
Phone: (215) 918-4242
If you are not quite ready for a consultation, download our probate handbook HERE. We’ll send you helpful probate guides and resources so you know how to handle the estate.
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