Probate describes the legal process for the administration of a decedent’s estate. While a court will play a role in overseeing this process, only an executor of an estate has the power to actually perform these steps. Because of this, many vital legal questions arise during probate.
You may have concerns about the probate process in general or how to initiate proceedings. You may also have learned that you have received a nomination as an executor in a will. In other cases, you may be looking to protect your rights to property as a member of an estate. A Pittsburgh probate lawyer is prepared to answer your questions. Our experienced estate planning attorneys are ready to explain the relevant laws and protect your legal rights.
The transfer of assets following a person’s death may seem like a simple matter. Especially if a person has a will, it may appear as though the heirs named in that will can simply receive assets as stated in the document. Sadly, this is never the case.
Probate exists to protect the rights of three main sets of people. The first is the named heirs in the will. Ideally, these people will receive the full amount of assets that a will designates for them. Second are creditors who have legitimate claims against the decedent. The court ensures that these creditors receive their due. Third, probate can result in people not named in a will receiving estate assets. This mainly occurs when the court invalidates a will or declares that will to be an incomplete accounting of a decedent’s property. A probate lawyer in Pittsburgh is prepared to provide you with a more complete understanding of probate and why this process exists.
The probate court does not personally distribute assets through probate. Instead, it functions to apply the Commonwealth’s laws to the heirs of the estate and executors. It is these executors who act to distribute estate assets to the proper parties.
The first question in many probate cases concerns the legitimacy of a will. Under Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes § 2501, any person over the age of 18 and of sound mind may create these documents. However, this simple concept does not tell the full story.
People who might stand to inherit property if the will did not exist may allege that the will is a fake. They could also introduce evidence that the will was the product of fraud or undue influence. Success with this argument could see a probate court invalidating a will. This will force the court to apply the Commonwealth’s intestacy laws.
Once a court determines that a will is legitimate, it shall examine that will to see if the testator nominated an executor. If so, the court is likely to accept this party in this role. If a will does not nominate an executor, or if this party is unwilling to accept this job, the court can act to name another willing person to act.
The court will then issue letters testamentary. These letters empower the executor to take temporary possession of estate assets, open bank accounts in the name of the estate, and distribute assets to creditors and heirs.
The final stage of probate involves the executor distributing assets. When doing so, they have an obligation under the law to act only in the interests of the estate and its heirs. Additionally, they must take reasonable steps to protect the value of estate property before this distribution occurs. A Pittsburgh probate lawyer could evaluate the actions of executors and provide guidance to people serving in this role to ensure that they are acting within the confines of the law.
The probate process is the sole method of determining the property rights of heirs after a person’s death and the only opportunity for parties to stake their claims to assets. This can include people named as heirs in wills protecting that position, family members who might stand to inherit should a will not exist, and creditors looking to claim debts from the decedent. Each of these parties might have legitimate concerns about their rights under the law and how the probate court functions.
A Pittsburgh probate lawyer is ready to address those questions. We could help you understand probate, recognize their rights under the law, and protect those rights in court. Speak with our team now to get started.