What is Probate and When is it Necessary?

When a person passes away, their assets must be legally transferred to their beneficiaries. This process is known as probate, and it will be required whenever there are assets in the sole name of the deceased person, also known as the decedent. The legalization of a will is necessary regardless of the value of the estate, and there are several types of non-testamentary properties that are not part of Ohio estates. If probate is necessary, the total process can range from six to twelve months.

Most assets will need to go through a probate process, although some may not be legalized. Examples of assets that cannot avoid legalization include personal items in a house, such as furniture, works of art, and other collections. Vehicles and real estate that are the sole property of the person, as well as accounts with no designated beneficiary, will also be included in probate. In Pennsylvania, when a person dies, it is necessary for the executor or closest family members to analyze the assets that belonged to the decedent to determine if it is necessary to legalize a will and open an estate. Real estate that is owned by co-tenants or co-tenants in its entirety is also excluded from probate.

It is only necessary to legalize a will if the decedent owned assets, whether financial or real estate, only in their name and had not yet designated a beneficiary. Most families will have some contact with a probate court, regardless of whether a will was created or not. Probate is nothing more than a judge who gives legal permission for the transfer of assets, whether or not a will exists. If the deceased died without a will, the legalization of the inheritance is processed by the closest relatives. If there is no will, the estate will most likely have to go through a succession before it can be distributed. If the assets were jointly titled with another person, they will automatically become the property of the co-owner without needing to go through a succession.

The attorneys at Willig, Williams & Davidson are available to answer your questions about the need to legalize a will and represent you in your capacity as executor or administrator of the estate. Some people assume that if the deceased person had a will, it means that you don't have to go through a probate process. Avoiding probate can also protect privacy, as some of the records may not be available to the public. To avoid this problem, it is important to file the will and petition for succession or simplified legalization immediately after a person's death. If the deceased had a will, then the person responsible for the estate is the executor named in it. However, if they died without leaving one and had assets that must be distributed under state law of intestate succession (the inheritance law), then probate may still be necessary.

Small estates are often eligible for a simplified process that usually does not require using an attorney.

Kristie Funn
Kristie Funn

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