Pennsylvania Probate Laws

Definition of Probate

In Pennsylvania, probate is the legal process that happens after a person (the "decedent") dies, regardless of whether the person died with or without a valid will. If a decedent dies with a will, then their property is distributed according to the will. If a person dies without a will, then Pennsylvania probate laws kick in and dictate how the decedent's assets will be distributed.

It's important to note that probate isn't always required after someone dies as there are ways that the process can be avoided based on the extent of a decedent's property and how it was held. Property held in a trust or property held in joint tenancy, for example, need not pass through the probate process.

The Probate Process

At its most basic level, the probate process in Pennsylvania involves two steps: paying your debts and transferring any assets to your beneficiaries. A probate proceeding begins when the court appoints someone to handle the administration of estate, i.e. a personal representative. Many times the decedent will already have named the personal representative in his or her will. If not, the court or clerk of the court will appoint someone (see below).

He or she must:

  1. Assemble all the decedent's assets;
  2. Pay the bills (funeral expenses, creditors, taxes, and general administration expenses);
  3. Distribute any assets that are left over.

Types of Estate Administration

The process of administering the estate will vary depending on whether or not the decedent had a valid will and the type of probate administration the decedent's estate will have to go through. If a decedent's estate is small enough, the law allows it to be probated using a simplified process.

See Probate Court, State Probate Courts, Avoiding Probate, and Estate Taxes for more information.

Code Section Pennsylvania Statutes, Title 20, Chapter 31, Section 3131, et seq.
Types of Probate Administration

Probate on Small Estates (Expedited Probate Proceeding)

  • Value of the estate is less than $50,000

  • Amount doesn't include real estate and funeral expenses.

All Other Estates

  • Formal probate proceedings

What Assets Go Through Probate?

Probate assets are any assets that are owned solely by the decedent. This can include the following: real property that is titled solely in the decedent's name or held as a tenant in common, personal property, such as jewelry, furniture, and automobiles, bank accounts that are solely in the decedent's name, an interest in a partnership, corporation, or limited liability company, and any life insurance policy or brokerage account that lists either the decedent or the estate as the beneficiary.

What Assets Skip Probate Entirely
Who Supervises and Decides Probate Cases? Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas
Estate Taxes Pennsylvania has an inheritance tax, not an estate tax.
List of Forms

Orphans' Court forms

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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Estate planning law is a very complex area of law; probate in particular can be a very long and involved process. If you are having difficulty dealing with probate issues, then you should find help from a qualified attorney. Get started with a free attorney match that pairs you with an experienced Pennsylvania attorney who knows about estate planning.

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