The probate process is one that ensures that all of your debts are paid and the legal titles of your assets are passed on to the correct beneficiaries and heirs. Probate is essentially designed to start the estate administration process.
If you name an executor in your will, then that person will take over the administration of the estate. If not, then the court will appoint someone to take on that role.
What happens during probate?
During probate, your executor will assemble all of the assets belonging to the estate, play down the bills related to your estate and death, and then distribute the assets that remain.
It’s important to note that probate is not always required after someone dies. Probate may be completely avoided in some cases, such as if you set up trusts or have beneficiary designations on your life insurance. Property held in a joint tenancy may also not have to go through probate.
Why is probate important?
When probate is needed, it has an important role to play. It makes sure that your estate is handled correctly and that debts are paid. It can also help distribute any assets that remain if there is no will.
When no will is present, probate laws determine how the estate’s assets will be distributed. The laws in Pennsylvania allow for expedited probate proceedings on small estates under $50,000 in value (not including funeral costs and real estate). Other estates have to go through formal probate proceedings.
Which assets can skip probate?
Some assets can skip probate. These include:
- Real estate that is owned by joint tenants
- Life insurance with beneficiary designations
- Property that is in a living trust
- Bank accounts or financial accounts with transfer on death or payable on death clauses
It’s a good idea to talk to your attorney to learn more about the probate process if you want to take steps to avoid it. Probate can be helpful, but it is also time-intensive and may come at a significant cost. Reducing the number of items that need to go through probate, or stopping probate completely, could help your family move on faster.