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How does probate work?

On Behalf of | Mar 2, 2022 | Probate & Estate Administration

Estate planning issues continue after a person dies and their assets undergo distribution. Pennsylvania law requires probate to assure the proper and efficient distribution of estate assets and the protection of beneficiaries and creditors.


The probate and estate administration process takes place when a person dies, and they owned assets in their own name alone. In this process, a personal representative starts an estate to take care of the decedent’s assets and settle their affairs.

This person may be appointed in the decedent’s will as the estate’s executor. If an executor was not designated, the court will appoint an administrator who can include an individual or an entity such as a bank or trust company. The executor or administrator has the sole authority to deal with estate assets and oversee its administration.

Assets held under the terms of trust instead of a will, however, are distributed according to the terms of the trust and outside the probate process. Assets that are not governed by probate may still have the same tax liability as probate assets.


A will is a legal document that governs a person’s affairs after they die, and which undergoes probate. It contains their intentions regarding the distribution of their home, finances, and other property. In addition to appointing the executor, the will governs how asserts will be divided and who will serve as guardian for the decedent’s children.               


Probate costs in Pennsylvania include filing fees for the estate’s opening, advertising the estate, filing an estate inventory, and executing other documents.

Legal fees are also paid to the attorney handling the estate. Their work typically includes preparation of death and income tax returns.


In Pennsylvania, the time to complete the probate process is shorter compared to other states. Executors and administrators possess broad powers to complete estate administration quickly.

They may oversee most details and transactions without having to obtain court approval. These usually involve liquidation of assets and payment of debts and expenses.

Executors and administrators have important duties and, in some cases, may be liable for errors. Attorneys can assist them perform their duties. Lawyers may also help people with their estate planning needs.