In Pennsylvania, the will of a deceased person is filed with the Register of Wills in the county where she kept her primary residence. Several other documents must also be filed as well in order to open probate. If you are named as the executor in the will, or the person who is going to be overseeing the probate process, you must also have proof of your identity, such as a driver’s license. A fee based on the size of the estate must be paid to open probate.
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The Register of Wills requires the death certificate of the testator, the person who left the will. This cannot be a copy, and must bear an official seal. In some cases, if you have not yet received the certified death certificate, other proof of death might be accepted, such as a newspaper with an obituary.
Petition for Probate
A petition for probate must be filed to open the estate. This is available either from the county courthouse or the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This form includes an oath that you must sign so you can assume the responsibilities of executor.
Grant of Letters
You must also file a petition for Grant of Letters to receive the documentation proving your position as executor. You need this documentation to deal with the testator’s bank, Social Security, insurance companies and other entities. The petition is a preprinted form, Form No. 1, Appendix A, available from the Register of Wills. This is the only form that the Register of Wills is permitted to help you prepare.
Some wills are "self-proved," or include a notarized statement by the witnesses and the testator that they are legitimate. If the testator did not leave a self-proved will, you must either bring the witnesses with you when you open probate, or have them complete and sign a form attesting that the testator’s signature on the will is legitimate. Form RW-03 is used if they are the persons who signed the will. If the witnesses have passed away or you can’t locate them, anyone who can swear that the deceased’s signature on the will matches his handwriting can complete and sign Form RW-04.
Estate Information Sheet
You must also file an estate information sheet known as Form No. 2, Appendix A, or Form RW-01, at the time you open probate. This form requires certain facts about the testator’s estate and assets.
If the named executor cannot or doesn’t want to do the job, she must sign a renunciation form indicating that she does not want the position, and you must submit this as well. More than one person may have to renounce the position. Generally, when the court must appoint someone else because the original executor is unavailable, the position is awarded based on rights of succession, beginning with the deceased’s spouse, then his children, then more distant relatives. Depending on how you are related to the deceased, or if you are related at all, all persons ahead of you in line to assume the role of executor must renounce the position before you can take it.