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What is Probate?

The probate or estate administration process must occur when someone dies owning property in his or her name alone, requiring the appointment of a personal representative by the court, who will handle the administration of the decedent’s assets and debts, and settle his or her affairs.

If the decedent has a will and appoints a personal representative in the will, that person will be called an Executor.  If there is no appointment in the will, or if the decedent dies without a will, that person will be called the Administrator.

Once the Executor or Administrator is appointed by the court, then “Short Certificates” will be issued.  These are certificates of authority issued by the court evidencing that the Executor or Administrator is authorized to act on behalf of the Estate of the decedent, which will allow for liquidating estate assets, opening an estate checking account, selling estate real property, etc.

The probate process in Pennsylvania is not usually very long compared to many other states. The personal representatives have broad authority to efficiently and quickly administer the estate, including liquidation of assets, paying of creditor claims, etc.

While every probate estate is unique, the probate process typically involves the following steps:

  • Filing a petition to open the estate and appoint the Executor or Administrator
  • Notice to certain heirs as identified in the Pennsylvania statute and the will
  • Newspaper advertisement of the estate
  • Inventory and appraisal of estate assets by the Executor/Administrator
  • Identification of all debts and expenses, including decedent’s income tax
  • Liquidation of/sale of estate assets and payment of debts to rightful creditors
  • Payment of death taxes, if any
  • Final distribution to the heirs, either by filing a Petition for Distribution with the court for a court order directing the final distribution, or by an informal agreement for the distribution signed by all of the heirs