In Pennsylvania, the probate process must be started if an individual dies with property in his or her own name. The probate process begins with the executor or administrator of the deceased person's estate handling assets and other affairs for the deceased. The person overseeing the estate is called an administrator if the person appointed by the courts or an executor if he or she is specifically named in a will. Either an individual or a corporation may oversee an estate during probate.
The personal representative for the estate will notify beneficiaries, inventory assets and pay any outstanding debts that the estate has. In addition to inventorying the estate, the personal representative is also responsible for accounting for all transactions. He or she oversees the process of distributing assets to heirs, and this person is the only one legally able to do so. The personal representative may also file a final tax return for the estate.
Probate is a public process designed to protect creditors and beneficiaries. It aims to ensure that everything within the estate is taken into account. The probate process also aims to ensure that assets within the estate are distributed fairly and properly. A thorough probate process may reduce the odds that a beneficiary or creditor is defrauded by the estate. The process of estate administration may go faster if all documents and other records are organized prior to an individual passing. Talking to an attorney may make it easier to create and organize documents in a manner that may reduce the odds of legal challenges during the probate process. By keeping a will or trust properly updated and notarized, it is more likely that last wishes of the deceased person will be honored as he or she intended.
Source: The Allegheny County Bar Association, "The Truth About Probate Living Trusts in Pennsylvania", October 21, 2014