Probate Basics

people with documents

This article is a transcript of the video Probate Basics | Estates & Trusts Team, also available on our website and on YouTube

Charles Hadad: Hi. My name is Charles Hadad. This is my colleague, attorney Mallory Sikora. We’re with the firm The Lynch Law Group, and we both practice in our Estates & Trusts group. We’re here to talk to you about another important topic called “probate.”

Mallory Sikora: So, I guess first off, what is probate?

CH: So probate is a process—it’s a legal process⁠⁠—that, if you pass away and you own an asset up to a certain value, you legally have to go through in order to authenticate and appropriately clear and transfer assets, from a legal standpoint, from that decedent to the beneficiary or heir. 

Pennsylvania has a legal process that has numerous steps that you have to follow, depending on the county that you resided upon your death, and your executor or personal representative is appointed and has a duty to pass through that process in order to transition that estate.

MS: So how will our client know if they need to probate?

CH: That’s a very, very good question. I definitely recommend that you seek counsel to determine properly whether or not you have to probate. Some states do not require probate. In Pennsylvania, there are statutorily two thresholds that are triggered in order to minimize the requirements of probate. 

For instance, if you own an asset when you pass that is $10,000 or less (or if it’s life insurance and is $11,000 or less), under Sec. 3101 of Title 20 of Pennsylvania’s Purdon’s Code, you can actually transfer those assets to next-of-kin by affidavit. And that’s really important to note, because on nominal assets, probate is not required. 

If the asset exceeds $10,000 but is below $50,000, under 3102 of that same Title 20 of Purdon’s in Pennsylvania law, your next-of-kin or loved one can do what’s called “filing a petition for small estate” and request that the court issue an order authorizing the transfer of that asset. But again, still side-stepping the probate process. 

If your assets that you individually own, with no beneficiary when you pass away, exceed $50,000 of value, in Pennsylvania, that would trigger probate. Probably the most common example is if I own real estate in my own name. That is going to trigger probate, my executor has to be sworn in, and then there are statutory requirements and duties such as advertisement, inventory, creditor notices, beneficiary notices, etc. that have to be complied with until that executor can receive discharge to complete the probate.

MS: You mentioned counsel. Should you have an attorney handle this for you, or can you do it by yourself? 

CH: So, a lot of people think, “I can just DIY, do-it-yourself probate.”

I would stress and recommend that you have counsel, and I will tell you that some counties require entry of appearance of counsel in order to properly comply with their rules. It is always advisable that you have counsel by your side through this process, because there are a lot of steps. 

Even though they might seem straightforward and it might seem like it’s just paperwork, there are a lot of legal steps that have to be followed, and if you misstep as a personal representative, you can be liable from a legal standpoint on that issue. So I definitely recommend that you have counsel by your side to guide you through it and to make it a smooth administrative process in order to get through the probate. 

If you have any questions related to probate, whether or not it applies, whether or not it can be minimized, and whether or not you need counsel, please feel free and do not hesitate to reach out to myself or Attorney Sikora. 

You can look us up on our website, which is www.LynchLaw-Group.com.

We have several offices located in Western Pennsylvania: one in Southpointe and one in Cranberry. We would be more than happy to schedule a consult with you to answer those questions, and feel free to continue to look for our additional videos and blogs on other great topics. 

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