If you have agreed to serve as the executor of a family member’s estate, you will be responsible for guiding the estate through probate. This involves taking inventory and distributing the person’s assets after he or she dies, with the court’s oversight.

Familiarize yourself with the way Pennsylvania probate works before becoming an executor.

Exempt property

Certain assets have exemption from Pennsylvania probate, which means that the executor does not need court approval to transfer these items to the named beneficiary. Exempt property includes:

  • Outstanding salary or wages up to $10,000
  • Cash to a spouse or another close family member up to $10,000
  • Living trust assets
  • Payable on death bank accounts, retirement plans, life insurance policies and other investments with a designated beneficiary
  • Co-owned assets, such as real estate, that the person owned with his or her spouse

Types of Pennsylvania probate

If the estate contains less than $50,000 in non-exempt assets, the executor can apply for the simplified probate process. The threshold applies only after the estate pays for the person’s funeral expenses. The local court can approve simplified probate, allowing the executor to move forward with paying the estate’s debts and distributing property.

Larger estates must undergo Pennsylvania’s formal probate process. You must submit the will and a petition for probate to the register of wills in the county where the deceased person lived, along with the required filing fee.

Navigating probate

The court will review the will and issue a document that gives you the authority to act in the estate’s interest, known as the Letters Testamentary. When the will has no witnesses with confirmation from a notary, you cannot distribute the person’s assets until you have sworn statements from all witnesses.

Once you have received the Letters Testamentary, you must publish notice of probate in two local papers so that creditors, heirs and the public have a chance to make claims to the estate.