Probate is the process where the court verifies the will of a decedent. In Pennsylvania, this process is overseen by the Orphan’s Court in the Court of Common Pleas. Probate is an important process that should be handled with the utmost care for the sake of the deceased person, the beneficiaries of the deceased, and many other parties that may be involved in probate. If you need assistance with the probate process for the estate of a loved one, you should consult with an experienced Delaware County probate lawyer. At Herr Potts and Potts, our lawyers are ready to help you with all your estate administration issues. Our lawyers are here to explain what probate is in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s Probate Process
The probate process begins by bringing a decedent’s will and a certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate to the Register of Wills in the county where the decedent lived.
A will is the most common method that a person may use for estate planning. A will is a legal document that is used by the will creator (testator) to convey their personal property and assets to beneficiaries named in the will. When drafting the will, a testator can name a personal representative, also known as an executor, to handle the estate administration. If the testator does not appoint an executor in their will, then the court or the clerk of the court will appoint one.
Before starting the probate process, a personal representative should locate the testator’s will, and any changes (codicils) added to the will. The personal representative should exercise caution to ensure that the correct will is submitted. Filing the wrong will could lead to several issues, like a will contest.
Once the representative locates the will, they can submit it for probate at any time. After the will is submitted and Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration are issued to the representative, the representative should start to gather all of the decedent’s assets. The representative must determine which of the decedent’s assets are subject to probate. Assets that are not subject to probate may include life insurance policies, joint assets, and assets in a trust.
A personal representative must also:
- Handle all debts and tax matters necessary to complete the estate administration
- Adhere to any state and federal regulations required for probate
- Notify all creditors and beneficiaries of the testator’s death
Once a personal representative resolves all matters pertaining to the decedent’s estate, they will be able to distribute the decedent’s property in accordance with his will. To learn more about probate in Pennsylvania, you should speak with an experienced West Chester probate lawyer.
How to Contest a Will in Pennsylvania
While a will can be submitted for probate at any time, a will contest should be filed as soon as possible. A will contest should be done before the will is deemed valid by the Register of Wills.
There are a number of ways that an individual could raise a will contest. One way to contest a will is by claiming the testator was under duress. A claim of duress will determine whether the testator was coerced into drafting their will in a particular manner. This could mean that the testator was forced into providing some or all their assets to a certain person or organization. Forgery is another ground for contesting the validity of a will. For example, signing the testator’s name to a will that was created without his consent is forgery.
You can also contest a will by alleging that the testator was a victim of undue influence. Undue influence claims typically arise when the testator is totally reliant on another person for most or all of their needs. Generally, to prevail in an undue influence will contest, you must prove three elements:
- Whether the testator had a confidential relationship with another person
- Whether the testator suffered from a weakened intellect when they drafted the will
- Whether the individual in a confidential relationship with the testator received the lion’s share of the testator’s estate
Under some circumstances, a testator may have altered their will to add or remove a beneficiary. If the will was amended properly, it can be used to prove that a previous version of that will should not be probated. It is important to note that there are other methods for contesting a will that is not listed here.
Our Montgomery County, PA Estate and Trust Litigation Attorneys are Here to Serve You
The probate process in Pennsylvania can be complex, and an experienced Montgomery County estate and trust litigation attorney can assist you with the process. Herr Potts and Potts have served residents of southeast Pennsylvania for over 80 years, and we would be proud to represent you. To schedule a confidential consultation, contact us at (610) 254-0114.