What is the Probate Process in Pennsylvania?

The last thing you want to deal with after the death of a family member or loved one is legal proceedings. Unfortunately, every decedent domiciled in Pennsylvania must have his or her affairs wrapped up in orphans’ court (the state’s version of probate court). The process is not typically onerous — especially with the right legal help — but it helps to know what to expect. 

Formal vs. Simplified Process

Generally, the steps needed to settle an estate are as follows: 

  • The decedent’s Last Will and Testament names an executor (sometimes called a “personal representative”) to act on behalf of the estate. If the decedent passed away without a Will, either the beneficiaries or court will name one. 
  • The executor must register the Will (if one exists) with the appropriate Register of Wills and file a petition in orphan’s court to open the estate. 
  • The executor receives legal authority from orphans’ court to act on behalf of the estate and begin inventorying the estate’s assets.
  • The executor pays the estate’s final debts and notifies creditors by publishing a notice in two newspapers.
  • Distribute the estate’s assets in accordance with estate planning documents or Pennsylvania’s intestacy laws.

It’s possible to skip a few of these steps, however, if the value of the decedent’s estate is below $50,000. What’s more is that certain assets can be excluded from contributing to the estate’s value in this context, such as real estate and estate funds used to cover funeral expenses. With a probate of simple estates, the executor or personal representative simply files a written request with the appropriate orphans’ court. If the court grants the petitioner’s request, all that stands between the beneficiaries and their inheritances is a short amount of time (no other steps are typically required). 

Do All Assets Pass Through Probate? 

No. A notable exception is assets held in a trust. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons for creating a trust. Some other assets can also bypass the formalities of orphans’ court, such as: 

  • Property owned jointly or with a payable-on-death designation
  • Life insurance
  • Wages up to $10,000


Is the probate court (orphans’ court in Pennsylvania) process a huge burden? That depends on your point of view. While it will take a fair amount of your time — especially if you are the executor — there are many ways to expedite the process (or avoid it altogether). 

HighPoint Law Offices understands what’s important to Pennsylvanians dealing with the aftermath of a loved one’s death: minimizing stress and expenses needed to deal with the disposition of an estate. We have decades of experience handling matters in orphans’ court efficiently. We can also help you make a plan for your estate so your loved ones can avoid an onerous legal process. Schedule a consultation with us today by calling 215-997-9773.

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At HighPoint Law Offices we support individuals, families, and businesses of all backgrounds with estate planning services that address their unique wishes, goals, and challenges.

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