Estate administration is the process of managing the estate of a decedent so that it’s assets can be distributed. In Pennsylvania, the Orphan’s Court is the Division of the Court of Common Pleas that serves as the probate court and has jurisdiction over the estates of decedents. 20 Pa.C.S. § 901. While the Register of Wills and Orphan’s Court oversee the administration process, a personal representative is appointed to handle the routine tasks of managing an estate. The process typically takes about 6-14 months. However, the actual times depends on factors such as the size of the estate, the number of beneficiaries, and whether there are disputes during the process. If the estate qualifies for Pennsylvania’s settlement of small estate procedure, the process will take less time. PA ST 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 3102
Estate Administration Process in Pennsylvania
Regardless of whether the decedent left a will or not, their estate must still go through an administration process. While there are several tasks that the personal representative will have to complete, there are two main goals. First, the personal representative must pay estate debt. Second, the personal representative must distribute estate assets.
Initiating probate: Probate is initiated by filing paperwork with the Register of Wills in the county in which the decedent was a resident at the time of their death. The paperwork includes a petition and a copy of the will, if any. There is a filing fee.
Appointment of personal representative. Typically, the person seeking to serve as personal representative is the person who initiates the process. The petition also includes a request for appointment of the personal representative. Upon approval, the personal representative will be required to take an oath. The Register of Wills will then issue the personal representative a document called, “Letters Testamentary” or “Letters of Administration.”
Notice to creditors. When a decedent passes away, their debt remains. The personal representative must take steps to ensure that the decedent’s debts are paid. Thus, the personal representative must let creditors know that the estate is in the process of being settled. Newspaper publication is the manner of notification. The notice must be published for 3 consecutive weeks. Creditors may submit their claims directly to the personal representative or to the Register of Wills.
Inventory. The personal representative shall file with the Registrar of Wills an inventory of all estate property that is located in Pennsylvania. The inventory must be filed no later than the earlier of the date the personal representative files the accounting or the date for the filing of the inheritance tax return for the estate. However, a beneficiary or heir can request for it to be filed earlier and the court may direct the personal representative to file an inventory at any time. 23 Pa.C.S. § 3301
Payment of estate debt. If the estate has sufficient assets, the personal representative must pay all valid claims. If not, then payment is to be made in the following statutory order of priority, subject to any preference given by debt owed to the federal government. 20 Pa.C.S. § 3392.
- Expenses of administration
- Family exemption, which is $3,500.00 for each family member who resided with the decedent at the time of their death. 20 Pa.C.S. § 3121
- Expenses of the decedent’s funeral and burial and medical expenses for the last 6 months of their life
- Costs of the gravemarker
- Rents owed for the decedent’s residence for the last 6 months of their life
- Debts owed to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania
- All other debts
Asset distribution. The personal representative will be permitted to distribute assets to the beneficiaries and heirs only after debts, taxes, and expenses have been paid.
Settlement of Small Estates in Pennsylvania
Under Pennsylvania’s settlement of small estates rules, estates with assets that have a value of less than $50,000.00 can file a petition with the Orphans’ Court for approval to distribute assets through an expedited procedure. PA ST 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 3102,