Probate & Estate Administration

What is Probate?

Probate or “estate administration” is the process by which a deceased person’s property, known as the “estate,” is passed to his or her heirs or beneficiaries (people named in the Will). Responsibilities ultimately fall on whomever was appointed executor in the deceased person’s Will. Matters can be a bit more complicated in the absence of a Will, because it would not be clear who has the responsibility of carrying out these steps. The entire process can take up to a year. However, substantial distribution from the estate may be able to be made in the interim.

The Process of Administering an Estate

In general, estate administration includes the following steps:

Filing the Will and petition for probate with the Register of Wills in order to be appointed executor. In the absence of a Will, heirs must petition to be appointed “administrator” of the estate.

Marshaling, or collecting, the assets of the estate. This means that you have to find out everything the deceased owned. You need to file a list, known as an “inventory,” with the Register of Wills. It’s generally best to consolidate all the estate’s funds to the extent possible. Bills and bequests should be paid from a single estate checking account so that you can keep track of all expenditures.

Paying bills and taxes. Pennsylvania inheritance tax must be paid within nine months of the date of death. A 5% discount on Pennsylvania inheritance tax applies if an estimated tax payment is made within three months of the date of death.

Filing tax returns. You must also file a final income tax return for the decedent and, if the estate holds any assets that earn interest or dividends, an income tax return for the estate.

Distributing property to the heirs or beneficiaries. Generally, executors do not pay out all of the estate assets until the period runs out for any creditors to make claims. This can be as long as a year after the date of death. But once the executor understands the estate and the likely claims, he or she can distribute most of the assets, retaining a reserve for unanticipated claims and the cost of closing out the estate.

A final accounting. The executor must prepare an account, listing any income and assets of the estate and all estate expenses and distributions. In certain cases the executor must file this account with Orphan’s Court. However, if all of the beneficiaries of the estate are in agreement, the final account can be approved without court supervision and the executor can distribute the remainder of the estate and close out the estate.

Some of these steps can be eliminated by avoiding probate through joint ownership or trusts. But whoever is left in charge still has to pay all debts, file tax returns, and distribute the property to the rightful heirs. You can make it easier for your heirs by keeping good records of your assets and liabilities. This will shorten the process.

How We Can Help

Henry and Maria will represent the executor or administrator of the estate both in situations where there is a Will or an intestacy (which occurs when a person dies without having executed a Will). Our services include:

  • Drafting and preparing all petitions, notices, reports, receipts, accountings, inheritance tax returns, and other documentation required by law to complete the administration of the estate
  • Preparing an inventory of assets of the estate that are subject to probate and filing it with the Register of Wills
  • Discharging all liabilities of the estate, including taxes
  • Advising the executor or administrator with respect to post death planning issues, such as funding of trusts and distribution of assets
  • Providing the executor or administrator with counsel and advice with respect to questions arising out of the administration of the estate such as dealing with troublesome beneficiaries

Contact Us

Call Henry Levandowski and Maria Darpino at (610) 446-9626 or contact us here to schedule your consultation.