How Probate Laws Work in Pennsylvania

When a parent or grandparent passes away, it often falls to the family to take care of the estate and their personal assets. This can be an emotional time, but practical decisions must be made.

The legal process for handling an estate of a deceased person is known as probate. Each state has its own laws about how the probate process should work. If you’re involved in an estate that is going through probate or will be, you should understand some of the basics about this process.

Is Probate Required in Pennsylvania?

Probate is usually necessary in Pennsylvania, except under a few conditions. Most estates cannot have the assets distributed to the heirs until the probate process is complete.

How Do You Avoid Probate in Pennsylvania?

Even though probate is generally necessary in Pennsylvania, there are a few ways to avoid it. The best option is to place the estate into a living trust with a named beneficiary. When the owner of the trust passes away, the beneficiary gets the estate without the need for probate.

Sometimes, you can’t avoid probate, but not all of the assets must be included. Certain assets are exempt from the probate process. If the decedent owned an asset with someone else as a joint owner, it won’t need to be probated. The asset will automatically become the property of the surviving owner.

Other assets may have named beneficiaries, which allows them to transfer ownership without probate. Some examples include life insurance policies, retirement accounts and bank accounts with payable on death.

Can an Executor of an Estate in Pennsylvania be Compensated?

Yes, Pennsylvania law allows for the executor to receive compensation for their duties. They can also be repaid expenses they incur as they perform their tasks.

How Much Does an Executor in Pennsylvania Get Paid?

Pennsylvania doesn’t set an amount or percentage of the estate as payment for the executor’s work. However, the Pennsylvania Statutes does address the idea of compensation in Title 20, Section 3537, which is reasonable and just. It also states that the compensation may be calculated with a graduated percentage. What this means is that the court would determine the amount to be paid, and it could be a graduated percentage of the value of the estate. The court would likely base it off what other estates have paid in the past and how much work was involved for the executor.

For example, the executor may be paid four percent on the first amount, three percent on the next amount and two percent on all value above a certain amount.

How Long Does Probate Take in Pennsylvania?

The timeline for probate varies based on the complexity and size of the estate. Creditors are allowed to submit claims up to one year from the time of publication. You can expect probate to take at least one year before it can be closed. In more complicated cases, probate can last for several years, especially if someone contests the will.

Do All Estates Have to Go Through Probate in Pennsylvania?

Even when an estate must go through probate, Pennsylvania probate law allows for a simplified process if the estate qualifies. This simplified procedure is available for estates valued at no more than $50,000. The first step to find out if an estate qualifies is to submit a written request with the court.

Does a Will Have to Be Probated in Pennsylvania?

A will must be filed even if the estate doesn’t need to go through probate. The person who has the will must file it with the Register of Wills in the county where the decedent lived before their death. If probate is necessary, they will also file a petition to open probate with the court.

Settling an Estate in Pennsylvania

Settling an estate is a time-consuming process. Pennsylvania follows the general steps which are common to all states. However, the specific details and timelines may be different from what is required in other states. If you’re involved in probate, you need to know the exact requirements.

These steps may sound easy, but they can be quite complicated in large estates. Pennsylvania doesn’t require an estate attorney to handle probate, but it can be beneficial to have legal counsel.

How Long Do You Have to File Probate After a Death in Pennsylvania?

There is no specific deadline for filing probate after someone dies in Pennsylvania. However, the law does require that the inheritance tax be paid within nine months of the person’s death unless an extension has been requested.

Probate Court in Pennsylvania

Probate is heard in the Courts of Common Pleas. This court has 60 districts, with most representing one county. Seven of the districts include two counties. Each district has at least one judge and may have more. Some Courts of Common Pleas have a division known as Orphans’ Court, which oversees probate. You can find the list of courts and locations on the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania website Pennsylvania Courts of Common Pleas | Courts | Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania (

Probate Code in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has its own set of laws regarding probate. They are found in the Pennsylvania Statutes in Title 20 Title 20 – DECEDENTS, ESTATES AND FIDUCIARIES.


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