If you recently lost a beloved family member, we convey our deepest condolences to you. Losing a loved one is an exceedingly difficult event to cope with on several levels. Whether or not your loved one left a Last Will & Testament with instructions on what to do upon his or her passing, his or her estate will need to go through the probate process.
The probate process is streamlined in Pennsylvania. In fact, probate in Bucks County, Montgomery County, Chester County, Delaware County and Philadelphia County all function similarly. The steps below are a starting point. Each estate will vary in terms of complexity, and other steps may be necessary depending on the situation.
Typical Probate Steps
- Step 1: Find and secure the Will, all amendments (codicils) to the Will and any previous Wills. Do not remove, add or alter any page. Tampering with the Will may cause irreparable harm to the administration of the estate.
- Step 2: Call an estate planning and estate administration attorney to begin the probate process. The attorney will begin by taking an inventory of the estate, and initiating the official probate process in the county Register of Wills office.
- Step 3: Before the consultation, you should gather the original Will, any Will amendments or codicils, and any previous Wills. You should also gather income tax returns for the last five years if possible, any statements from bank accounts, retirement accounts, etc. Gather any bills or notes due. Make a list of valuables, including real and personal property, both located in Pennsylvania and any other state if applicable. All of these documents should be brought to the initial meeting with the attorney. Also, if applicable, bring a funeral cost list and receipts.
- Step 4: At the initial meeting, the attorney will determine what assets need to be probated. Jointly held assets, assets in trust, and any asset with a beneficiary form (such as an IRA) do not go through the probate process, and are automatically distributed. The attorney will review the Will and other pertinent documents. The attorney, at the conclusion of the meeting, should be able to estimate the size of the probate estate, the attorney’s fee, the possible PA inheritance tax due and possible federal estate tax due.
- Step 5: The executor listed in the Will must go with the attorney to the Register of Wills office in the county where the Will originated from to probate the estate. At that point, the original Will and death certificate are presented, the executor is assigned after taking an oath, and the county fees to probate the estate are paid. The fee for the county depends on the size of the estate and how many certificates are issued.
- Step 6: The estate is advertised for several weeks in two local newspapers, so that any creditors can make claims on the estate. Also during this time, notices are sent to all possible beneficiaries of the estate.
- Step 7: Within three months, the estate should pay at least an estimate of the PA inheritance tax to get a 5% discount. The full tax is due 9 months after passing. Also, when there is a federal estate tax due, that is also due 9 months after passing.
- Step 8: The assets will be divided, liquidated, etc by the executor with the assistance of the attorney, bills will be paid with the estate account, and the estate will be closed.
These steps are a starting point designed to give you an understanding of the probate process. For more assistance, please contact our office today to set up an initial consultation.
- Pennsylvania Probate Resources: