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The disadvantages of probate in Pennsylvania

On Behalf of | Oct 5, 2022 | Estate Planning

Probate is a legal process in Pennsylvania that most people try to avoid. Although it helps, it may be unnecessary, given the numerous other ways to distribute assets to your loved ones.

Understanding probate

Probate consists of authenticating a decedent’s will and appointing an executor or personal representative to administer the estate. The probate court gives the executor the authority to pay debts and taxes, distribute assets and carry out the terms of the deceased person’s will.

The pitfalls

The probate process can be time-consuming. Depending on the size and intricacy of the estate, it might take months or even years to finish. In Pennsylvania, for example, if there is real estate involved in the estate, it could take up to two years for all claims against the estate to be resolved and for the distribution of assets to be made to beneficiaries.

Probate can also be expensive. The executor is entitled to be reimbursed for reasonable expenses incurred in administering the estate. In addition, the executor is typically compensated for their time spent on probate matters. Attorney fees can also add up, as the executor may need legal assistance in carrying out their duties.

Finally, probate is a matter of public record. This means that anyone can request copies of documents filed with the court and access information about the decedent’s assets and liabilities. If you want to keep your affairs private, probate may not be your best option.

Alternatives to probate

There are many alternative estate planning methods that allow you to avoid the time and expense associated with the probate process. They include:

  • Using a revocable living trust
  • Naming beneficiaries on all your accounts with financial institutions, such as bank accounts, investment accounts and retirement accounts
  • Giving gifts during your lifetime instead of waiting until after you die
  • Creating a pay-on-death designation for certain assets, such as your vehicle or your home

In some cases, probate may be necessary even if you have taken steps to avoid it. For example, if you have joint accounts with someone who is not your spouse, these assets will usually go through probate unless you have named a beneficiary on the account. Or if you own real estate in more than one state.