What is probate? Probate is the legally mandated process of administrating and distributing your estate. A personal representative, the Executor of your estate as designated in your Will, is responsible for handling your assets and settling your affairs after your death. Your personal representative is the only person legally permitted to distribute your assets and administer your estate. If you don't name an Executor under a Will, the Court will appoint an Administrator to serve as your personal representative. Probate protects both your beneficiaries and your creditors, and places time limits on creditor claims. It provides for the payment of any estate and possibly inheritance taxes for both probate as well as non-probate assets since non-probate assets, such as trusts, and assets with named beneficiaries like life insurance and retirement accounts, may still incur estate and or inheritance taxes. Most importantly, it ensures the proper distribution of your assets.
In Pennsylvania the probate process is relatively inexpensive and most people do not see the need to implement complicated estate planning tools to avoid probate. Probate is done through the Register of Wills in the County of the decedent's primary residence. A petition must be filed by the Executor, along with the death certificate, the original will, and Estate Information Sheet form, and a check for the filing fees.