Probate is essentially the process of proving the validity of a Will to the Register of Wills. When the Will is deemed to be valid, the Register issues certificates to the Executor, authorizing the Executor to take possession of the deceased person's property. The executor then will pay all debts, file the appropriate tax returns and distribute the balance of the assets in the Estate to the beneficiaries named in the Will. There are certain time limits to which the Executor must adhere for reports to the Register of Wills and for Estate, Inheritance and Income Tax filings.
If a person with property dies without a Will, the process followed is similar to the probate of a Will, but it is called an Administration. The next-of-kin asks the Register of Wills to issue Letters of Administration to the person qualified to serve under the Law of Intestacy. Then the process is similar to that outlined above, but the distribution of the assets will be determined by the statute, not the distribution contained in a Will. It is not true that the assets of someone dying without a Will pass to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania so long as the decedent dies leaving relatives at least within the range of first cousins. However, without a Will, control of the disposition of assets passes in accordance with the law, not necessarily our preference.