From a technical point of view, the term “probate” refers to the process of proving that a will is authentic. In Pennsylvania, the term is also used to refer to the overall handling of the Estate of someone who has passed away (the decedent), whether or not he or she had a will.
Pennsylvania allows for a will to be “self-proving.” By having it properly witnessed, and attaching affidavits, the Registrar of Wills can accept the Will, without any additional proof, unless someone challenges it. That in itself is one advantage of having your will properly prepared by an experienced attorney.
To probate a will, the original must be presented to the Registrar of Wills, in the County where the Decedent last resided. If the original has been lost, it may be possible to substitute a copy. If the Will is not self-proving, then two individuals must attest to the authenticity of the signature of the person who made the will (the testator). If that cannot be accomplished, witnesses to the signatures of the persons who witnessed the will might be substituted.
After the Will has been accepted for probate, the Registrar will appoint one or more persons to be in charge of the Estate. If there is a Will, the person(s) named in the will are normally appointed. Otherwise, someone, typically the next of kin, is selected. They are called the executor if there is a will, or the administrator if there was no will. They are given a certificate, which proves that they are the person who is entitled to handle anything belonging to the estate.
The executor or administrator is required to collect all of the assets, pay the debts, including expenses of administering the estate. They will usually employ a probate attorney, to do the necessary legal work for the estate. The executor or administrator of an estate will make necessary decisions about how to handle assets. For example, if a house is to be sold, a realtor would be selected, and an asking price is set. The executor is also responsible for filing an inheritance tax return. The remaining money or property is then distributed to the person or persons entitled to it.