Pennsylvania Probate: The Ultimate Guide
By Vincent Hein, attorney
If you’re looking for information about probate in Pennsylvania, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for a detailed overview of probate in Pennsylvania, and to find out if you qualify for one of Pennsylvania’s simplified probate procedures.
Do you need probate in Pennsylvania?
Probate is a legal process which involves distributing a person’s assets and covering their debts and taxes after they die. Assets held or titled solely in the decedent’s name will generally go through the probate process before being distributed to the heirs or beneficiaries.
Examples of probate assets include:
- Single name bank or investment accounts
- Assets owned jointly as tenants in common (as opposed to joint tenancy)
- Art and collectibles
- A house in a single name
- An automobile in a single name
- Safety deposit box contents
If you are looking for more clarity regarding which assets need to go through probate, see What Assets go Through Probate?
Simplified Probate Procedures in Pennsylvania
For smaller estates, Pennsylvania allows for simplified probate procedures. You may qualify for one of these simplified probate procedures in Pennsylvania if:
- The value of the assets subject to probate is $50,000 or less. The court will advise as to whether notice to creditors is needed. Note: In determining the $50,000, real estate and vehicles are excluded (20 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3102.), or
- The probate asset is life insurance, and it is going to be paid to the estate, up to $11,000 (Note: Life insurance usually avoids probate.), or
- A financial institution in Pennsylvania may release up to $10,000 to certain members of the family without probate, provided the family member shows a death certificate and proof the funeral has been paid (20 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3101.), or
- An employer can pay wages and salary due to the deceased, up to $10,000 without probate.
If you have probate assets, and the assets do not qualify for a simplified procedure based on the dollar values and descriptions listed above, then you will be required to go through the full probate process.
Who is in charge of the estate?
If there is a will, a personal representative is named in the will to manage the probate estate. If the named personal representative is unable or unwilling to serve, then the next personal representative named in the will (called the successor personal representative) may serve. Note that sometimes the word “executor” is used instead of “personal representative”.
If no one named in the will can serve as personal representative, then the beneficiaries of the will must appoint a personal representative of the estate. The beneficiaries must either agree unanimously or reach a majority vote. If not, the probate court decides.
Similarly, if there is no will, the heirs at law must decide and agree on who will administer the estate. The “heirs at law” are usually the surviving spouse, or if there is no surviving spouse, then the children of the deceased, with certain exceptions for blended families. The heirs at law must either agree unanimously or reach a majority vote.
To prove that someone is in charge of the probate estate, the court issues Letters Testamentary (if there is a will) or Letters of Administration (if there is no will). The personal representative shows the Letters as proof of their power to act on behalf of the probate estate.
What some states call publication or notice to creditors, Pennsylvania state statute refers to as “advertising”. After Letters are issued by the court, the estate must be advertised for three successive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation as well as a legal newspaper (for example, The Pittsburgh Legal Journal). Creditors have up to one year to file a claim against the estate.
What do I need to get started on the probate process?
Before you file a probate, there are a few things you need to get in order:
- A death certificate
- The will (if there is one)
- The names and addresses of the heirs or beneficiaries
The first step is to give notice to all the beneficiaries or heirs. If you are the one who either intends to manage the probate estate or you are named in the will to manage the probate estate (and you accept the position), it is your job to give notice and gather the signatures.
How long does probate in Pennsylvania take?
In Pennsylvania, most probates can be done in 9 to 18 months.
How much does probate cost in Pennsylvania?
Here’s an overview of the approximate costs of Pennsylvania probate:
- Court costs for various filing fees will total approximately $225.
- Attorney fees vary. Hourly fees for attorneys can range from $150 to $300 per hour. For a simple probate, where it does not look like fighting and litigation will occur, it’s probably reasonable to estimate attorney fees at a minimum of $2500. These fees are greatly reduced when you use EZ-probate and do probate on your own without an attorney. You can get started for free with our EZ-Probate questionnaire.
- A fee will sometimes need to be paid to person managing the probate, which is usually a percentage of the probate estate, for example, 2%. (The fee is often waived.)
- If an asset in question has an uncertain value and needs to be appraised (such as cars or antiques), you will want to be prepared to pay an appraisal fee.
- Depending on the state that the property is in, you may need to pay an estate tax. Pennsylvania does not have a state estate tax. Furthermore, the federal estate tax only applies to multi-million dollar or billion dollar type estates and affects less than 1% of the country. Pennsylvania does have an inheritance tax where the amount due is based on the relationship of the inheritor to the decedent.
Want to get a head start on the probate process?
The first step towards getting a probate opened is completing our online questionnaire. If you have already started it, you can always go back and finish it.
If you have questions, schedule a free consultation today.