Probate is the legal process for settling a deceased person’s estate. In Pennsylvania, there is no set time limit on when you can initiate probate after someone dies, but it is best to get the process started as soon as you can. Waiting can make things more complicated and lead to issues with the estate dragging on for years. Whether you are the named executor of an estate or a loved one died without a will, seeking the counsel of an experienced probate attorney can help you understand the process and the next steps to take.
When to Probate an Estate
Unless someone sets up a specific estate planning tool such as a living trust to avoid probate, a family member or personal representative should file a petition with the Probate court (Orphans’ court in PA). The probate process itself can take months or even years, so doing it promptly is the best course of action to get an estate settled in a timely manner. In Pennsylvania, if you pay inheritance taxes within three months of the death, you receive a 5% discount. An estate law attorney can advise you on what an estimated payment may be based on the value of the estate.
Problems that May Arise if You Wait on Probate
Failing to probate a will can result in serious consequences for the executor and the estate. Although certain assets such as life insurance, joint bank accounts and property that is owned in joint tenancy do not have to go through probate, other assets must be probated. If you fail to do this, certain assets that are solely in the deceased’s name cannot be sold or transferred. This means that ongoing expenses like insurance premiums, property taxes and vehicle registration must continue to be paid.
Creditors may also pursue debts that were owed by the deceased. When probate is opened, an executor or personal representative must advertise the estate in local papers. Creditors have one year from the date of advertising to file a claim. The earlier the estate is opened, the sooner the deadline for creditors. If there is a problem with an existing will or it is contested, typically these issues can only be addressed through the probate process.
What if an Executor or Personal Representative Fails to Probate a Will?
An executor of an estate can be held personally liable for resulting expenses if they deliberately avoid the probating of a will. Failing to probate an estate or will for your financial gain can even lead to jail time. Waiting to probate an estate or attempting to avoid it is not worth the risk of losing assets or dealing with potential liability.
Regardless of whether someone close to you has recently passed away or you have discovered that a distant relative has died and their assets need to be properly distributed, lawyers for wills and estates can help you get the probate process rolling. If you have questions about probate or need help with estate planning, the experienced team at Carosella & Associates can help make the process run smoothly and take some of the weight off your shoulders.