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Pennsylvania Last Will and Testament

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Updated on September 15th, 2023

Pennsylvania last will and testament is a document that communicates instructions for distributing and managing an individual’s estate after death. With a will, the individual (testator) can decide which relatives, friends, or other beneficiaries will inherit their real estate and personal property. They can also appoint guardians for children, determine how debts should be paid, and designate an executor (a.k.a., personal representative) to settle their affairs and distribute assets.

Any person who is sound of mind and at least 18 years old can make a will.[1]

Probate Process in Pennsylvania (9 Steps)

A person who passes away with a legally valid will is considered to have died testate, and their estate is subject to the probate process. The time needed to settle an estate is at least one year from the date notice is given to the decedent’s creditors.

  1. Gather Probate Documents
  2. Submit Paperwork
  3. Advertise Probate
  4. File an Inventory
  5. Provide Notice to Interested Parties
  6. Submit Tax Returns
  7. Settle Debts
  8. Make Final Accounting
  9. Settle the Estate

1. Gather Probate Documents

Pennsylvania offers a simplified probate process that can be applied for with a Small Estate Affidavit, or “Petition for Settlement of a Small Estate,” but only if the estate is valued at $50,000 or less (not counting real estate or property payable under § 3101).[5]

The probate process will be initiated by the executor appointed in the decedent’s will. To begin, the executor must prepare a filing package that consists of the following:

2. Submit Paperwork

The executor’s filing package must be submitted to the register of wills in the county where the decedent lived before their death.[6] Upon approval of the filing package, the executor will receive a document called Letters Testamentary, which validates their appointment to manage the decedent’s estate. Additionally, the executor will be given the following:

3. Advertise Probate

Directly after receiving the Letters Testamentary, the executor must advertise the probate proceeding by publishing a notice once a week for three straight weeks in a newspaper distributed in the area where the decided lived, and in a legal periodical approved by the court.[8] The notice must include:

  • The executor’s name and address
  • A statement that anyone who owes debts to the decedent must pay them promptly
  • A statement that anyone who is owed money by the decedent must make themselves known to the executor*

*Creditors must present their claims for payment within one year after the initial publication date of the advertisement.[9]

4. File an Inventory

Using the Inventory provided by the register of wills, the executor must list and appraise all the decedent’s real estate and personal property.[10] The completed Inventory and two photocopies must be filed no later than the date the executor submits their Final Accounting or within nine months after the decedent’s death, whichever comes first.

5. Provide Notice to Interested Parties

A probate notice must be given to those with a beneficial interest in the estate, such as the decedent’s heirs and beneficiaries.[11] To accomplish this, the executor must do the following:

  1. Fill out the Notice of Estate Administration provided by the register of wills.
  2. Serve a copy of the Notice of Estate Administration to the interested parties within three months after receiving the Letters Testamentary.
    • Notice may be served by personal delivery or first-class mail.
  3. File a Certification of Notice (Form RW-08) with the register of wills within ten days after service.

6. Submit Tax Returns

One of the executor’s administrative duties is to file and pay the applicable federal and state tax returns listed below.

7. Settle Debts

Any debts owed to the decedent’s creditors will need to be paid before the estate can be settled. If the decedent didn’t leave enough assets to cover each debt, the executor must prioritize their payments in the following order:[13]

  1. Administration costs
  2. Family exemption[14]
  3. Funeral/burial expenses and medical care received within six months before the decedent’s death
  4. Cost of grave marker
  5. Rent owed during the six months before the decedent’s death
  6. Claims by the state and political subdivisions
  7. All other claims

8. Make Final Accounting

Once all debts and taxes have been paid, and after a whole year has passed from the initial publication of the probate advertisement, the executor can continue by preparing an Accounting of the estate’s assets and expenses (see sample). Once completed, the Accounting must be approved by either the beneficiaries or the register of wills.

  • Approval of Accounting by Beneficiaries – If the beneficiaries agree to the executor’s Accounting, they must sign a Receipt and Release to confirm their consent (no official form available).
  • Approval of Accounting by Register of Wills – Without the beneficiaries’ approval, the executor must provide the register of wills with the Accounting and a Petition for Distribution (see sample for Allegheny County). A hearing will be scheduled, and a hearing notice will be provided to the beneficiaries. After the hearing, a judge will make a ruling on the subject.

9. Settle the Estate

Once the Accounting is approved by the beneficiaries or the register of wills, the executor can proceed with distributing the assets of the deceased. After the distributions are completed, the estate settlement can be finalized by submitting the Status Report, which was provided when initiating the probate process. If applicable, the Receipt and Release forms should be filed as well.

Note: A Status Report must be filed no later than two years after the decedent’s death and each year afterward until the estate is settled.[15]


  1. § 2501
  2. § 2505
  3. § 2507(2)
  4. § 2502
  5. § 3102
  6. § 3151
  7. § 3171
  8. § 3162
  9. § 3532
  10. § 3301
  11. 231 Pa. Code § 10.5
  12. § 2142
  13. § 3392
  14. § 3121
  15. 231 Pa. Code § 10.6