What is probate and estate administration in Pennsylvania? When a person dies owning assets in his or her name alone, an estate may need to be “opened” by a personal representative to handle the assets and to settle the decedent’s affairs. When Pennsylvania residents have had a loved one pass away, they may find themselves in a situation where the probate of a Will is needed. They may have more than a few questions about the process of probate and estate administration and what steps to take, which require help from an estate attorney.

So, what are the basics? If the decedent died with a Will, the original Will must be filed at the local Register of Wills office, which is known as “probate.” When Pennsylvania residents have a Will, the document often names the Executor of the Will – usually a relative or trusted friend. If there was no Will, an Administrator is appointed. The Executor or Administrator must collect the decedent’s assets, ensure that the decedent’s debts are paid and, after the estate administration is complete, distribute assets to heirs and beneficiaries.

Many cases involve relatively small estates – those with assets of $50,000 or less. However, many Pennsylvania residents do not realize the size of their Estates. A home, a car, a bank account and a brokerage account can add up. The probate process may be somewhat more complicated with larger estates.

There are some assets which do not need to go through probate. Jointly titled assets will pass to surviving joint owners. Assets like life insurance and retirement accounts have named beneficiaries who will receive those proceeds. Assets held in trusts are also not subject to probate and will pass to the beneficiaries named in the trusts.

When families are grieving the loss of a loved one, having to deal with probate and estate administration can be difficult. Because these matters have the potential to be complex, it may help to have the assistance of an experienced estate attorney, who can ensure that all of the proper steps are taken and that all of the proper paperwork is prepared and filed in a timely manner.