Estate administration is the process of collecting and managing an estate after someone dies, paying any debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining property to the heirs of the estate. Although some estates may be handled without legal assistance, under most circumstances an executor should hire an attorney to assist with the process. One problem that can quickly escalate and potentially derail the process of administering an estate is discord among family members. This can cause delays and even lead to probate litigation. Also, if there are not enough assets in the estate to pay all outstanding debts, decisions must be made concerning which debts to pay and how to handle the rest.
I handle a broad range of estate administration and probate issues. If you need help with any part of the estate administration or probate process, contact me for a free consultation to discuss your situation.
Frequently Asked Questions
While an attorney is not required to administer an estate, it is advisable to consult with one. Administering an estate involves many intricate details, including but not limited to filing petitions and various other legal documents, advertising the estate, filing an inheritance tax return, paying debts in the correct order, withdrawing the decedent’s funds, selling the decedent’s real property and distributing property. If you need assistance with estate administration or probate, I am available to help. Contact me to schedule a free consultation.
Probate, which is part of estate administration, is the legal process of gathering and distributing someone’s assets after they pass away. In Pennsylvania, the first step in the probate process is filing the will (if there is one) with the proper Register of Wills. When the will is filed and recognized as valid, the executor named in the will is appointed to administer the estate during the probate process. If there is no will, then an administrator is appointed to handle the probate process on behalf of the estate.
The time it takes to complete the probate process can vary substantially based on the size and complexity of the state. It typically takes 12 to 18 months to complete the probate process. I am available to help you determine which assets need to go through probate and to consult on any questions you may have about the probate process.
In most cases, an executor can receive a reasonable fee as compensation for services provided if there are sufficient funds in the estate. Some executors choose not to take a fee, especially where the executor is an immediate family member, while some always do, like a family friend or a corporate executor. If an executor does receive a fee, provided that the fee is reasonable, it can be used as a deduction on a Pennsylvania inheritance tax return, thereby reducing the taxable estate.
It is critical to have an original copy of the will for probate. While it is possible to probate a copy of a will in Pennsylvania, doing so can be very difficult. If the original will is truly lost and cannot be located, several requirements must be met to be able to probate the copy. Otherwise, the deceased person will be treated as intestate (having died without a will).
To contest a Will, there must be legal grounds to do so. Common grounds include lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, fraud, forgery, mistake or insane delusion. Each of these grounds for contesting a Will have their own unique elements to prove in order to succeed in a court of law. In Pennsylvania, if a person has standing and has grounds to contest a Will, the person, with the help of an attorney, often files a Petition with the Orphan’s Court. This begins the legal proceedings.
Regardless of whether that person died with a will or without a will (intestate), the executor may need to open an estate and begin probate in the other state where the decedent owned property. If the property is titled in the decedent’s name alone, an estate must be opened in the state where the property is located. This is called ancillary probate, which may require assistance from an attorney in that state. If the out-of-state property is held jointly with another person or in a valid trust, ancillary probate may not be required.