How to Probate a Will in Pennsylvania

By Lee Hall, J.D.

How to Probate a Will in Pennsylvania

By Lee Hall, J.D.

Probate sets forth the rules that dictate where people's assets and responsibilities go after death and guides the representative of the deceased through the process. Probate ensures a person's will is authentic, authorizes someone to administer the estate, and arrives at legal closure.

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What Constitutes a Valid Will?

Pennsylvania law simplifies a will's authentication. With narrow exceptions for disabled people unable to sign a will, the document must meet just two basic requirements. First, it must be a written document. Second, the testator (the person whose will it is) must sign it at the end.

Note that Pennsylvania does not require any witnesses. That said, if no one witnessed the signing of the will in the first place, the Register of Wills expects people to come in and verify the signature on the will. This is why many Pennsylvania residents make "self-proving" wills. This means the Register of Wills accepts a notarized affidavit at the end of the will, signed by the witnesses when the testator signs, as proof the will is the testator's.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a Register of Wills in the deceased's home county. That office has the responsibility to acknowledge the will's authenticity after hearing from anyone who might contest it.

Pennsylvania law offers detailed information pertaining to self-proving wills as well as other information to guide the personal representative through probate.

How Does the Estate Become Ready for Probate?

The Register of Wills in the county where the testator lived accepts the original will and a certified copy of the certificate of death. The Register of Wills provides the estate's personal representative with an Estate Information Sheet (Form REV-346 EX) and all other forms from the Orphan's Court pertaining to the Register of Wills. The Orphan's Court swears in the representative, establishing that person's power to act on behalf of the testator's estate and to file the probate tax.

The family of the deceased should receive a copy of the death certificate and the bill for the funeral and related services. The family may withdraw reasonable funds from the savings of the deceased to cover these costs.

How Much Time Does Probate Take?

Expect the process to take a year or longer. The estate might contain assets that need appraisals and rely on auction processes, such as art and antiques or real property. Other time-consuming complexities entail:

  • Inventory. The Pennsylvania Register of Wills requires the representative to file the inventory within nine months from the original filing of the will.
  • Taxes. Final state and federal tax returns required on behalf of the deceased take time to file, especially if a person lived a short time in a given year and the filing, therefore, must wait a year. The Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Return, due within nine months of death, also takes time to complete with Pennsylvania's Department of Revenue.
  • Creditor's rights. Before distributing assets, the representative must publish a notice informing the testator's creditors that the estate is in probate and how to contact the estate. Publication must occur in a local newspaper, plus the court-designated legal newspaper that regularly publishes these notices. The notice runs weekly for three successive weeks. The estate must allow creditors a year to make claims. (Should a valid debt appear after the representative has already distributed the assets, the representative could be liable for the debt.)

When Can Probate Conclude?

After locating bank balances, titles, mortgages, insurance policies, loans, and other accounts, the representative filters out the assets not subject to probate—those slated to pass directly to a beneficiary upon death, such as property in trust or accounts with joint rights of survivorship or named beneficiaries.

Having paid the debts, taxes, and estate costs of the deceased, the representative can distribute assets to the beneficiaries named in the will, and the Orphan's Court may close the estate.

By following the above guidance, those responsible for probate can properly do one last kindness for the deceased.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.