Schedule a Consultation Today  |  624 North Front Street, Wormleysburg, PA 17043

Law Blog

What is the Time Limit to Probate a Will in Pennsylvania?

When a parent or a grandparent suddenly passes away, the family is usually left to take care of their assets, including their estate.

Losing a parent or grandparent is an emotional time, and families often have to deal with the deceased’s assets, including their estate. One of the critical decisions to be made during this time is the probate process. Probate is a legal process of handling a deceased person’s estate, and its rules vary from state to state. This article aims to provide an in-depth guide to probate in Pennsylvania, answering questions about time limits, eligibility, and the overall process.

Table of Contents:

  1. Probate in Pennsylvania: An Overview
  2. Probate Eligibility and Requirements
  3. Probate Process and Timeline
  4. Common Probate Issues and Delays
  5. After Probate: Finalizing the Estate
  6. Contacting a Probate Lawyer

Probate in Pennsylvania: An Overview

Probate is the legal process of managing a deceased person’s estate. It involves identifying, gathering, and distributing the deceased’s assets to their heirs and beneficiaries after paying off any debts and taxes. The process is governed by state laws, and in Pennsylvania, it is handled by the county Register of Wills office.

If the deceased has left a valid will, it usually names an executor who is responsible for administering the estate. In the absence of a will, the court appoints an administrator to manage the estate.

Probate Eligibility and Requirements

Not all estates in Pennsylvania require probate. Probate is generally necessary when there are probate assets, such as money or property solely owned by the deceased without joint owners or named beneficiaries. Probate may also be required in certain circumstances, such as when the estate contains real estate or other valuable assets.

Pennsylvania law provides for a simplified probate process for estates valued at no more than $50,000. To utilize this process, the executor or administrator must file a petition with the County Orphan’s Court. Once approved, the estate assets can be claimed and distributed.  While this is meant to be a simplified process, the time involved in having the Petition approved is often longer than the process of opening an estate and adds more delays than if the estate was probated using the standard method.  

Comparing Standard Probate vs. Simplified Probate in Pennsylvania

Standard Probate
Simplified Probate
Estate Value
Any value
$50,000 or less
Filing Procedure
File will and petition for probate with county Register of Wills
Submit a petition to the court for approval
Court Involvement
Some court oversight oversight by Register of Wills
Orphan’s Court Involvement
Varies, typically longer (1 year or more)
Generally shorter overall but longer to access assets (often less than 1 year)
Higher, due to increased court involvement and longer duration
Cost various, generally less expensive than larger estates
Executor/Administrator Responsibilities
Full range of responsibilities, including notifying heirs, gathering assets, paying debts, and distributing assets
Similar responsibilities, but with a streamlined process and fewer formalities


Probate Process and Timeline

The probate process in Pennsylvania begins with filing the deceased’s will and a petition for probate with the county Register of Wills office where the deceased resided. If the will is deemed valid, the court will issue Letters Testamentary to the named executor, authorizing them to act on behalf of the estate. If there is no will, the court will issue Letters of Administration to the appointed administrator.

The executor or administrator must then perform several tasks, including:

  • Notifying potential heirs and beneficiaries
  • Identifying, gathering, and valuing the deceased’s assets
  • Paying the deceased’s debts, expenses, and taxes
  • Distributing the remaining assets to the heirs and beneficiaries according to the will or state law

In Pennsylvania, there is no specific deadline for filing probate. However, the inheritance tax must be paid within nine months of the deceased’s death, unless an extension has been requested and granted.

Here is a breakdown of the probate timeline and steps:

Approximate Timeline
Filing Will and Petition for Probate
File the deceased’s will and petition for probate with the county Register of Wills office
No specific deadline
Issuance of Letters Testamentary/Administration
Court issues Letters Testamentary (if there’s a will) or Letters of Administration (if there’s no will)
After filing the will and petition
Notifying Heirs and Beneficiaries
Executor/administrator notifies potential heirs and beneficiaries
3 months after letters are issued
Identifying, Gathering, and Valuing Assets
Executor/administrator locates and appraises the deceased’s assets
Varies, depending on estate complexity
Paying Debts, Expenses, and Taxes
Executor/administrator pays the deceased’s debts, expenses, and taxes
Inheritance tax due within 9 months
Creditors’ Claims
Creditors have a limited time to file claims against the estate
Up to 1 year from notice publication
Distributing Assets
Executor/administrator distributes the remaining assets to the heirs and beneficiaries according to the will or state law
Usually within 1 year, but can vary

The overall duration of the probate process depends on the complexity and size of the estate. Creditors have up to one year from the publication of the notice to file their claims against the estate. In most cases, probate can be completed within a year. However, more complex estates or those with disputes can take several years to resolve.

Common Probate Issues and Delays

Some factors can cause delays or complications in the probate process. These include:

  • Disputes among heirs or beneficiaries
  • Challenges to the validity of the will
  • Difficulty locating assets or beneficiaries
  • Complex assets such as businesses or commercial real estate
  • Outstanding debts or tax liabilities

To avoid or minimize these issues, it’s crucial to have a clear well-drafted will and a competent executor or administrator. Open communication among all parties involved can also help prevent disputes and facilitate a smoother probate process.

After Probate: Finalizing the Estate

The primary goal of probate is to ensure that all debts, taxes, and obligations are paid, and the beneficiaries receive their inheritance. Once the executor or administrator has paid off all liabilities and expenses, they must provide the beneficiaries with a final accounting. This accounting typically includes:

  • A list of all estate assets and their corresponding values
  • A summary of all debts, taxes, and expenses paid
  • A breakdown of the remaining assets to be distributed to the beneficiaries

In most cases, this accounting is an “informal accounting” that does not need to be filed with the court, as long as all beneficiaries agree with the figures and sign off on the accounting. If there are disputes or concerns, a formal accounting may be necessary.

Here is a breakdown of the steps involved in finalizing the estate after probate in Pennsylvania:

Preparing Final Accounting
Executor/administrator prepares a final accounting, including a list of estate assets, debts paid, taxes, and expenses
Typically an informal accounting
Beneficiary Approval
Beneficiaries review and approve the final accounting, signing off on the figures if they agree
Formal accounting if disputes arise
Signing Releases
Beneficiaries sign releases allowing the executor/administrator to distribute the final proceeds
Required for asset distribution
Distributing Assets
Executor/administrator distributes the remaining assets to the heirs and beneficiaries according to the will or state law
Final step before estate closure
Filing Final Status Report
Executor/administrator files a final status report with the county Register of Wills, informing them that the estate has been closed
Marks the end of the probate process

Once the beneficiaries approve the accounting, they must sign releases allowing the executor or administrator to distribute the final proceeds. After distributing the assets, the executor or administrator must file a final status report with the county Register of Wills, informing them that the estate has been successfully closed.

Contacting a Probate Lawyer

Probate can be a complicated process, particularly for those unfamiliar with the legal requirements and procedures. Understanding the process and knowing what to expect can help alleviate anxiety and ensure a smoother experience. If you have questions or concerns about probate, consulting an experienced estate lawyer can be invaluable.

Cherewka Law offers reliable probate lawyers in Cumberland County, PA, who can guide you through the probate process and address your legal needs. Contact us today to learn how we can assist you in navigating the complexities of probate and ensuring a successful outcome for your loved one’s estate.

In Pennsylvania, there is no set time limit to probate a will. However, it’s essential to be aware of the inheritance tax deadline of nine months following the deceased’s passing. The probate process can be complex and time-consuming, depending on the size and nature of the estate, and can take anywhere from a few months to several years. By understanding the probate process, working with an experienced probate lawyer, and maintaining open communication among all parties involved, you can help ensure a smoother and more efficient resolution of your loved one’s estate.

Schedule a free consultation to learn more.

Check Out Our Downloadable Guides

Our team has the knowledge and experience to provide you with sound legal advice and representation.

About Cherewka Law

We are a law firm in Harrisburg, PA dedicated to providing comprehensive, highly personalized planning services to individuals, couples, families and businesses.

Start the Conversation

Send us a message today!

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Call Now Button