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What happens after a loved one dies in Pennsylvania?

On Behalf of | Nov 9, 2023 | Probate

People often don’t know what to do after the death of a loved one. They may feel insurmountable grief and uncertain about what the future will hold. It can be very difficult to handle the aftermath of someone’s passing, even if family members knew that their death was likely due to health issues or advanced age.

There are certain matters that families have to resolve relatively quickly, including burial and memorial service planning. Other concerns stemming from someone’s death may take months to fully manage. What can people generally expect after someone dies in Pennsylvania?

The need to go to probate court

Even if someone has minimal property in their name, there will likely be some degree of probate oversight required after they die. It will be necessary to present any testamentary documents, like a will, to the probate courts, along with an inventory of their assets.   The probate process often takes a year or longer to complete when people have significant assets and personal obligations.

What happens during probate?

After the beginning of probate proceedings, there are many steps that the personal representative of the estate must take. They will need to send notice to creditors who might have a claim against the estate. They will also typically need to publish notice so that unknown creditors can make a claim in probate court.

The personal representative will need to secure and sometimes relocate estate assets. They must use estate property to settle financial obligations, including the end-of-life care costs and personal debts. There could also potentially be taxes to pay. Although Pennsylvania does not collect an estate tax, it does levy an inheritance tax. If people leave resources for extended family members or friends, there may be taxes due on the property that they inherit.

The estate itself could be responsible for income taxes if the personal representative must sell assets. There will also be federal estate taxes that people have to pay if their estate is worth more than $12,920,000. Financial obligations, including creditor claims and taxes, typically take precedence over the inheritance rights of family members.

It is quite common for people to wait many months to receive their inheritance after a loved one dies. Occasionally, families end up embroiled in conflict because someone questions the validity of a will or the conduct of the person handling estate administration. Those who know what to expect after a loved one dies may have an easier time setting realistic expectations, seeking necessary legal guidance and remaining patient throughout the probate process.