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What is Probate?

Probate of a Will may be necessary if a person dies owning assets in his or her name alone and has a Last Will and Testament, which indicates what is to be done with those assets following death. Probate and estate administration is the opening of the estate by a personal representative, known as the Executor, to collect the decedent's assets, to pay the decedent's debts and to settle the decedent's affairs.

Probate takes place by filing a Petition for Grant of Letters and a death certificate with the Register of Wills in the county in which the decedent resided. An experienced estate attorney should prepare the Petition and file it with the named Executor to ensure that probate is done properly. A fee is charged to file this Petition, which varies by county. The Executor is sworn in and Letters Testamentary are granted, which authorize the Executor to act on behalf of the Estate.

To show the Executor's authority, "short certificates" are issued by the Register of Wills. Without probate and the swearing in of the Executor, no one has authority to act on behalf of the decedent. In some states, it can take months for the Probate of a Will; but in Pennsylvania, the process usually takes only a few hours, unless there is a will contest between potential beneficiaries.

The Executor collects and uses the estate assets to pay the decedent's debts and obligations, and taxes. The Executor advertises the estate, communicates with the beneficiaries named in the Will or the decedent's heirs under Pennsylvania law, prepares and files certain documents with the Register of Wills, including an Inheritance Tax Return and an Inventory, and eventually makes distribution to the beneficiaries or heirs.

Most Executors rely on an experienced estate attorney to help with the probate and estate administration to ensure that it is done properly and in a timely fashion.

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