How do I Probate an Estate in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, if a person dies with a last will and testament the filing of the will and the appointment of an Executor is called probate.  If a person does not have a will, or in other words is intestate, the petition filed with the Register of Wills is a petition to obtain Letters of Administration.  In order to probate a will or obtain Letters of Administration, the Executor (where there is a will) or Administrator (where there is no will) must file with the Register of Wills in the county where the decedent was domiciled or lived at the time of his or her death (1) a petition either on a form provided by the local Register of Wills or as established by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which must be signed by the petitioner in the presence of the Register of Wills or the person designated by the Register of Wills; (2) an original death certificate with an official seal; (3) where there is a will, the original will (there is a separate procedure for when there is a will but only a copy can be supplied) with proof that this is a true and correct copy of the will; (4) a completed Estate Information Sheet, which form can be obtained from the Register of Wills; (5) and, check or other payment for filing fees.  The filing fee can vary from county to county and can be ascertained from the Register of Wills office. The fee is also determined by the value of the estate.  A bond or insurance policy for the due care of the estate by the Executor or Administrator may be needed depending on the terms of the will.

The person wishing to be named as Executor or Administrator should bring a proof of identification, such as a driver’s license.  The Executor or Administrator should be ready to take the oath of his or her office which is a swearing fidelity.

Some wills are self-proving, that is they do not require witnesses unless an objection is raised.  Wills which are self-proving have attached thereto a notarized acknowledgement by the decedent and a notarized affidavit by two subscribing witnesses.  If a will is not self-proving, the petitioner will need a notarized oath of the witnesses to the will or the attendance of the witnesses to the will or, if this is not possible, witnesses to the signature of the maker of the will who can swear that they can identify the signature of their own knowledge as the signature of the person who made the will.

In the event that more than one person is named in the will, or where there is no will but there is more than one person of the same relationship who does not wish to serve, the petitioner will need signed and notarized renunciations from those who do not wish to serve.

Before probating a will or obtaining Letters of Administration, an individual should consider the responsibility which they will be taking on themselves in the estate.  A person who is appointed Executor or Administrator and swears the oath before the Register of Wills has the responsibility to notify beneficiaries, where there is a will to provide them with a copy, to gather all the assets of the estate, pay or account for the bills of the estate, administer the estate and file a first and final accounting with the Register of Wills for approval by the Court.

The Executor or Administrator of the estate also has the responsibility to file tax returns as necessary.  These include, but may not be limited to, current year tax returns for the decedent (federal, state and local), inheritance tax returns to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and, in cases with larger, more valuable estates, estate taxes to the federal government.