The probate process in Pennsylvania isn't one of those things that most people know as a matter of fingertip knowledge. It's not like riding a bike, driving a car or paying your taxes. It only is triggered after a person dies. Not only does it fall into that category of subjects people often don't want to think about, it also winds up being something that someone else has to deal with. So it becomes easy to overlook.
But there are good reasons why it's important to have an understanding of the process. It's especially important if the person who has died hasn't taken essential estate planning steps such as drafting a will and keeping it up to date. In the midst of all the emotional upheaval that accompanies the loss of a loved one, complications can crop up in the probate process that lead to even higher anxiety.
Probate is not always required. If the decedent had a will and it is deemed valid, then state law allows assets to be distributed in accordance with that document. But if no will exists, Pennsylvania probate law steps in to determine how any assets should be allocated.
Key issues that will be addressed include the paying off of any debts the decedent might have had. These could include outstanding loan or credit card balances, funeral expenses and taxes. After that, the remainder will be split among possible beneficiaries.
Step one in the process is the appointment of a personal representative. If one hasn't been named in a will the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas will appoint one. The actual administration of the estate depends on whether there's a will or not, and the type that may be required. The smaller the estate, the less complicated administration is likely to be.
As you might guess, the probate process can be time consuming and expensive. And mitigating the effects is most effectively achieved by consulting with an attorney with solid experience.
Source: FindLaw, "Pennsylvania Probate Laws," accessed April 10, 2015