Probate is an unfamiliar process for most Pennsylvania residents. While many may understand some of the basics of other areas of the law, such as criminal law or family law, probate and estate law can be daunting to even the most sophisticated of individuals. An overview of the basics of the probate process can be beneficial for many people.
First and foremost, what is "probate?" Well, probate refers to the legal process by which a person's assets are transferred to other people after that person's death, and the person's "estate" is closed out, with taxes and debts addressed as well. For estates that do not involve a great deal of assets, debts or heirs and beneficiaries, often a "simple" probate process is possible. However, for other estates that include large amounts of assets, funds, debts and tax implications, the probate process can be quite a bit more complex.
Of course, the entire probate process can be simplified if the estate in question is governed by the terms of a will. When a person crafts a will as part of a comprehensive estate plan, they are providing directions to their loved ones as to their wishes on how assets will be distributed and how taxes and debt obligations will be addressed. The more specific and well-thought-out an estate plan is, the easier the probate process can be for heirs.
In the probate process, all of the deceased person's assets must be marshaled and accounted for. From there, once taxes and debts are addressed, the assets in the estate can be distributed. However, the entire process can be thrown for a loop if a potential heir challenges the terms of the will. Such a "will contest" will need to be resolved before the estate and probate process can be closed.