Death is a basic fact of life that should be planned for as any other life event. The majority of Pennsylvania residents will owe debts and own assets upon their deaths. How these assets and liabilities are then handled becomes a function of instructions in the individual's will and the probate process.
In most cases, the probate process begins with the court appointing a personal representative to handle the individual's estate. If there is a will, this individual is generally indicated as a part of the will. This individual then searches for and gathers information regarding all assets owned by the individual. These assets often include real estate, jewelry, personal possessions, bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts and life insurance. It is possible that there are other assets as well.
The personal representative then reviews all of the individual's liabilities. These often include funeral expenses, medical expenses, mortgages, car loans, credit cards and taxes. Again, it is possible that there are other liabilities that need to be taken care of.
Once all assets are accounted for and all liabilities paid, the personal representative will then distribute the remaining assets. If the individual left a will, this distribution is based upon instructions left as a part of the will. However, if the individual did not leave a will, then assets are distributed based upon state and probate guidelines.
There are some assets that are typically not a part of the probate process in Pennsylvania. These assets would include those owned in conjunction with another individual. Additionally, life insurance policies with a stated beneficiary and bank accounts that have a payable upon death clause are not a part of the probate process. An experienced attorney can help an individual understand and navigate this process through the legal system.
Source: statelaws.findlaw.com, "Pennsylvania Probate Laws", Accessed on May 20, 2017