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How does the probate process work in Pennsylvania?

After a person dies, decisions must be made regarding the person's assets. "Probate" is the name for the legal process for determining the fate of much of a deceased person's assets. Probate happens regardless of whether the decedent had a will or not. If a decedent dies without a valid will, the assets are distributed according to Pennsylvania's rules of intestate succession.

A decedent's probate is handled by a person called the personal representative. A testator can nominate a personal representative in their will. A personal representative can also be named by the probate court. The personal representative's first duty is to assemble all the decedent's assets. Assets can consist of personal property, real estate, securities and more.

After the assets have been assembled, the personal representative's next duty is to pay the estate's bills. These bills can include funeral expenses, creditors, administration expenses and taxes. After all valid bills have been paid, the personal representative's final duty is to distribute the assets according to the will or according to the rules of intestate succession. If the decedent had a will, there may be laws that override the decedent's wishes. In addition, certain types of assets, such as life insurance policies and property in a living trust, bypass the probate process altogether.

Sometimes the job of personal representative is relatively easy. The bills are paid, the assets are distributed, and no pitfalls are encountered. Other times, personal representatives may face creditor conflicts, will contests, asset valuation conflicts and other hurdles. Probate and estate administration lawyers can help personal representatives and beneficiaries with these issues.

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