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Probate & Estate Administration

When a person dies, some of his or her assets pass automatically to named beneficiaries or joint owners. These assets may still be subject to Pennsylvania inheritance tax, but the court will not get involved. For anything in the decedent's name alone, though, with no beneficiary named and no trust involved, the probate process determines how the assets are managed and distributed.

The probate process for each estate is unique, but usually involves the following steps:

  • Filing a petition (and the death certificate and original will, if any) with the probate court, seeking appointment of an executor (in case of a will) or administrator for the estate
  • Sending a notice to the heirs
  • Advertising the estate in two local papers
  • Identifying probate assets and moving them into an estate bank account
  • Where necessary, having assets appraised and, as appropriate, selling them
  • Paying creditors
  • Filing a complete listing of probate assets with the court
  • Paying taxes, including the decedent's final income tax returns and the inheritance tax return
  • Closing the estate, either with an audit by a judge or by an agreement among the heirs
  • Distribute the balance of the assets to the heirs

It is nearly impossible to complete the estate administration process in less than a year and, depending on the size and complexity of the estate, it may take two or more years. If there are no quarrels about the estate, it is frequently possible to make advance distributions from the assets, but this has to be determined by the lawyer who reviews the entire situation.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Does probate administer all property of the deceased?

Probate is primarily a process through which title is transferred from the name of the deceased to the names of the beneficiaries.

Certain types of assets are "non-probate assets" and do not go through probate. These include:

  • Property in which two or more people own title as "joint tenants with right of survivorship." such property passes to the co-owners by operation of law and does not go through probate.
  • Retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401(k) accounts where there are designated beneficiaries
  • Life insurance policies
  • Bank accounts with "pay on death" (POD) or "in trust for" (ITF) designations
  • Property owned by a living trust. Legal title to such property passes to successor trustees without having to go through probate.

Do I get paid for serving as an Executor?

Executors are reimbursed for all legitimate out-of-pocket expenses incurred in the process of managing and distributing the estate.

In addition executors are typically entitled to a commission because of the high level of responsibility and integrity required to administer the estate. Typically, executors retain an attorney to advise and assist with their duties.

How much does probate cost?

  • Court fees in Pennsylvania are modest.  (To check this out, go to http://www.alleghenycounty.us/wo/fees.aspx. Currently, the probate fee for a $400,000 estate is $393.50.)
  • Additional expenses include the executor's fee and expenses, attorneys' fees, accounting fees, appraisal costs, closing costs for selling the real estate, and other miscellaneous charges.

How long does the probate process take?

Even a simple estate typically takes a year to administer, and more complex estates can take much longer. For a simple estate, it is the inheritance tax return that causes the delay. The return should not be filed until all assets and debts are identified. Once the return is filed, the state takes up to six months to approve it, and distribution of the assets should not take place until approval is received.


Olds Russ & Associates, LLC is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the North Hills section of Allegheny County. The firm provides representation to clients in nearby communities such as Etna, Shaler, Allison Park, Westview, Glenshaw, Gibsonia, and Wexford, as well as clients throughout Western Pennsylvania.

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