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How Long Do You Have to File Probate After Death?

Benoff Law Firm Feb. 22, 2024

PROBATE LAW phrase on bookDuring such a challenging time, it's completely natural to feel unsure and overwhelmed about next steps. Opening up to our legal team will be extremely beneficial, so you don't have to go through this journey alone. 

At Benoff Law Firm, we're here to guide you through the complex world of probate. Situated in the heart of Pennsylvania, we serve not only Trevose but also surrounding areas including Northeast Philadelphia, Southampton, Philadelphia, Bucks County, and Montgomery County.  

The Time Frame for Filing Probate in Pennsylvania

In the state of Pennsylvania, there isn't a hard and fast deadline for filing probate after death. However, it's generally advised to start the process as swiftly as possible because inheritance tax is due 9 months after the passing of a loved one. Probate encompasses various steps such as validating the deceased person's will, identifying assets, settling debts, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. It's a process that requires attention to detail and thoroughness, and starting early can help ensure a smooth execution.  

Factors Influencing the Time Frame

When it comes to probate, one size doesn't fit all. The timeline can vary greatly and is influenced by a number of factors. Here are some key aspects that play a role in how long the process can take: 

  • Complexity of the Estate: If the deceased's estate includes a variety of assets, such as real estate, stocks, retirement accounts, or business interests, it may take more time to assess and distribute these assets properly. The presence of assets in different states or countries can also complicate matters. 

  • Probate Property: As per Pennsylvania law, only assets owned solely by the deceased person need to go through probate. Jointly owned properties, pay-on-death bank accounts, life insurance policies, or assets held in a living trust can be transferred without probate court approval. This can significantly affect the length of the process. 

  • Will Disputes: If there are disputes or challenges to the will, the probate process can be extended. These disputes could arise from perceived inequities in the distribution of assets or from questions about the validity of the will itself. 

  • Tax Matters: Pennsylvania imposes an inheritance tax due when anyone but the surviving spouse or a charity inherits from the deceased person. Some personal representatives pay the estimated amount of inheritance tax within three months after death. It's not due until nine months after death, but paying early gives the estate a five percent discount off the tax bill. 

  • Estate Size: Pennsylvania offers a simplified probate process for small estates, which state law defines as estates that contain no more than $50,000 in assets. This does not include real estate, certain amounts the family can collect without probate, and amounts used to pay funeral expenses. 

  • Efficiency of the Executor: The executor’s efficiency in gathering the necessary documents and information can significantly impact the timeline. If the executor is not prompt or organized, delays can occur. 

Understanding these factors can help you prepare for the probate process and set realistic expectations.  

Steps to Take Immediately After Death

When a loved one passes away, it's a challenging time filled with grief and stress. Amid these emotions, there are certain steps you need to take to initiate the probate process. Here is a list of actions you should consider: 

  1. Locate the Will: If your loved one left a will, it's crucial to find it as soon as possible. This document will guide the distribution of their assets and may also include other important instructions. 

  1. Notify Relevant Parties: Reach out to banks, financial institutions, and other relevant organizations about the death. This can help prevent any fraudulent activity on your loved one's accounts. 

  1. Gather Important Documents: Collect essential papers, such as the death certificate, financial records, property deeds, and insurance policies. You'll need these for the probate process. 

  1. Determine if Probate is Necessary: Not all assets require probate. Jointly owned properties, pay-on-death bank accounts, life insurance policies, or assets held in a living trust may skip the probate process. 

  1. Check for Small Estate Procedures: Pennsylvania law offers a simplified probate process for small estates, defined as those with no more than $50,000 in assets. This does not include real estate and certain amounts exempted from probate, such as funeral expenses. 

  1. Consider Professional Assistance: The probate process can be complex, particularly when you're dealing with the loss of a loved one. It might be beneficial to seek the guidance of an experienced probate attorney. 

Remember, every situation is unique, and these steps might vary based on your personal circumstances and the nature of the deceased's estate.  

Consequences of Not Filing on Time

While there isn't a strict deadline, delaying the filing of probate can lead to complications. These could include delays in distributing assets to beneficiaries, potential disputes among family members, and the risk of assets being mismanaged or lost. Therefore, it's crucial to consult with an experienced probate attorney to ensure proper adherence to legal requirements and prevent any negative repercussions.  

Compassionate Legal Assistance

At Benoff Law Firm, we understand the emotional toll that the death of a loved one can take. Dealing with the probate process during such a time can be overwhelming. That's why our team of compassionate attorneys is committed to providing the legal assistance you need. We will guide you through the probate process, ensuring your loved one's wishes are respected and helping to administer the estate effectively.  

We believe in a client-centered approach, tailored strategies, and skillful legal guidance to achieve positive outcomes. With our local knowledge, you can have confidence in our dedication to serving you and your family in these challenging times.