Probate Lawyer in Pittsburgh

Helping families that lost a loved one

When there is a will (or isn't a will) in Pennsylvania, we will need to probate the estate. For families that have a will, it will determine who the executor is and who the beneficiaries are.

If families don't have a will, Pennsylvania basically creates one through their intestate statutes. That is a fancy way of saying that there is an entire process governed by Pennsylvania for what to do when someone dies without a will. We've helped people through it hundreds of times.

Whether you have a will or not, our team is ready to help you every step of the way through the estate administration process. From probate, to the inheritance tax return, to transferring or selling real estate, and the family settlement agreement, we are here for you.

What is probate?

Formally, probate is the act of authenticating the Last Will and Testament of the person that passed away.  If there isn't a Will, then probate is when we attest that a will hasn't been located. Once probated in Pennsylvania, the county issues short certificates and Letters Testamentary to the Executor(for a Will) or Letters of Administration to the Administrator (no will). However, many refer to the entire estate administration process as probate.


Once the estate is probated, the Executor or Administrator has the power and responsibility to carry out the estate. Most people tend to focus on the assets. There are two main categories of assets: probate and non-probate.

Probate Assets

Typically these are assets that were in the name of the person that passed away, and only their name. These assets do not have a beneficiary or Transfer/Pay on Death designation. 

Most of the time these assets are real estate, checking/savings accounts, and other non-qualified accounts.

Non-Probate Assets

These assets are anything that was held jointly with another person, that have a beneficiary listed, or have a Transfer/Pay on Death designation.

Oftentimes these are IRAs and life insurance policies. 

It doesn't matter what we know Mom or Dad would have wanted.

All that matters is the estate plan they left you with (or didn't leave you with).

How do you probate an estate?

Every person and family is different. We meet you on your level and get to know you. It's important that we understand what matters to you - that's what matters most.

Discovery Call

This is a free phone meeting where we get to know you. We want to know what matters to you, why this is important, and if you've done it before.

We want to make sure that we are a good fit for each other before moving further ahead. You will get a proposal with fees and a breakdown of our proven process after this meeting.

Probate Meeting

Once you decide to work with the firm, we will set up your probate meeting with your attorney. This meeting can be virtual via Zoom from the comfort of your own own, or you can travel to our office.

This is where we will work together to understand any questions you have about debts, next steps, or family issues. We will work on the next steps and any upcoming deadlines. Finally, we will schedule a date to probate the estate.


Our team will begin to carefully prepare the Petition for Grant of Letters and all supporting documentation. This will be approved by your attorney.

Once approved, your designated probate partner will meet you at the courthouse on your scheduled date to guide you through a successful probate.

At the conclusion of probate, you will receive short certificates from the Register of Wills.

Estate Administration

Now that the estate has been probated, we move into a 12-18 month process to carry out the estate.  Steps such as statutory notices, opening the creditor claim period, and checking for estate recovery liens must occur. 

Our team will diligently capture all financial information so that we can prepare the inheritance tax return and inventory. Once all taxes and filing fees are submitted, we can settle any remaining debts and creditors. Finally, after a family settlement agreement is signed by all parties the funds and assets can be distributed.

What is it like to work with you?

Don't take our word for it, see what others have to say for themselves!


What are some questions that I should ask?

Here's everything that we get asked all of the time!

Do you focus on estate administration?

We sure do! Our practice is exclusive to estate planning, probate, and elder law. If the neighbor's dog bites you or you are in a car accident, call us - and we will partner you with a fantastic attorney.

Our team has spent years perfecting estate administration and probate for YOU!

I thought a will avoided probate, why do you say this needs probated?

Unfortunately, wills don't avoid probate - wills guarantee probate. Fortunately, our team handles probate on a daily basis and provides you a streamlined experience. We guide you every step of the way and make it as easy as possible for you.

The only asset is a house, this should be easy.

In Pennsylvania as soon as real estate is involved, you must go through probate and the full estate administration process. Other states have a tiered approach. Pennsylvania requires probate anytime real estate is involved or when total probate assets are greater than $50,000.

My parents lived in Pittsburgh, but I'm out of state, is that a problem?

It isn't a problem at all. Many of our clients are in the same situation. Nearly all counties require you to attend probate in person. Provided you can make one trip to Pittsburgh, we can get it all handled. Had it been in a trust, travel to Pittsburgh could have been avoided altogether. Once probated, everything we do can be done virtually or through the mail.

I think there are substantial debts. What do I do?

Let's have a discovery call and determine what next steps make sense. When the estate has more debts that assets, there are limited options. Meeting with us as a first step can alleviate problems down the road.

Oftentimes, clients have a strategy meeting with their attorney to craft a plan for these estates to make the easiest path forward possible.

My spouse died and the house was in their name. Do I need to probate?

Unfortunately, yes. Please reach out to us and set up your discovery call. We will work to understand any other assets in their name and design a plan to help you. 

This happens more often than you might think and you aren't alone. It is important that we understand if there is a will or not. If there is not a will, the children of your spouse may be heirs. This can become more complicated if they are minors.

How much is Pennsylvania inheritance tax?

Your inheritance tax rate is dependent upon your relationship to the person that passed away. Spouses have a 0% tax rate. Children of the decedent have a 4.5% tax rate (as do other lineal decedents). Siblings inherit at a rate of 12%. Other heirs including friends and partners have a 15% inheritance tax.

The Johnson Estate Fee schedule is expensive! Is that how you price this?

This is why people love working with us. We never use a percentage of assets like the Johnson Estate Fee schedule. Our team builds a custom proposal based on the work involved and NOT the value of the assets. We don't take a higher fee because the IRA has a larger balance or the house sells for a better price.

I started the estate on my own and now I'm stuck, can you help?

We absolutely can! Many people attempt to do this on their own and quickly get confused at trying to interpret the statutes. During our discovery call, we will understand what you have accomplished so that we can build a custom proposal that has the steps going forward.

Schedule your free discovery call today.

If you lost a loved one, we are here to help you through everything that must be done to carry out their estate.

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Contact Us

Zihmer Law Firm - Pittsburgh Office
3244 Washington Road
Suite 210
McMurray, PA 15317

Phone: 412-223-2525


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