If you have been putting off writing a will, you are not alone. In fact, almost 70% of Americans have not yet arranged for the disposal of their assets after their deaths. Still, regardless of whether you have a will, your estate likely must go through the probate process.
Dying with a legally valid will ensures your assets end up where you want them to go. If you die without a will, however, Pennsylvania’s probate laws determine what happens to your real property, personal belongings, cash and other assets.
The probate process
In your will, you may designate someone to act as your personal representative or executor. This person is responsible for administering your estate after death. Generally, the probate process includes the following steps:
- Your executor petitions the court to open probate and files a copy of your will.
- The court grants permission to your executor to administer your estate.
- Your executor notifies your heirs and creditors about the administration.
- Your executor inventories your estate and collects your assets.
- Your executor pays your outstanding debts and taxes, including inheritance taxes.
- Your executor distributes all remaining assets to your heirs.
Exceptions to probate
Some of your assets may fall outside Pennsylvania’s normal probate process. For example, if you have a joint tenancy in real property, probate is probably not necessary after your death. The same may be true if you place assets in certain types of trusts.
Small estates are often eligible for a simpler probate process. Ultimately, though, whether you have many assets or just a few, creating a comprehensive estate plan allows you to maintain some control over your estate ever after death.