Estate administration involves gathering of the decedent’s assets, paying the decedent’s debts and distributing the assets to the beneficiaries.
We guide families through the probate process, including marshaling of assets. We assist the personal representative in paying the creditors of the estate, filing the necessary documents with the courts and distributing assets to beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of the will or trust. We also prepare complex inheritance and estate tax returns.
The narrow definition of “probate” is the act of presenting a Will to the Register of Wills for filing and officially appointing the executor of the estate. The Register of Wills determines whether the Will is a valid document. In a more general sense, “probate” refers to the method of administering an estate through the legal system upon the death of a decedent. Through the probate process, the assets in the estate are transferred to the beneficiaries in an orderly manner.
Ancillary probate is necessary when real estate is owned by a decedent that is located outside of his/her state of residence and is transferred to the beneficiary via the decedent’s Will. If the property is transferred to the beneficiaries through a revocable trust, ancillary probate is not necessary.
In Pennsylvania, estates with less than $50,000 in assets can avoid the formal probate process by filing a small estate petition in the local Orphans’ Court requesting that the Court approve the proposed distribution of the estate.
The laws of intestate succession govern how property is distributed when the decedent does not leave a Will. In general, whether a person can be an heir depends on his or her relationship to the decedent. The Pennsylvania laws of Intestate Succession are designed to give priority to the surviving spouse and children of the decedent.
When a deceased spouse has not provided for the surviving spouse in his/her Will, or has inadequately provided for him/her, the surviving spouse is entitled by law to one-third of certain categories of property owned by the decedent. The surviving spouse who wants to take an elective share must file a written statement in the Orphans’ Court where the Will was probated no later than six months after the decedent’s death or six months after the Will was probated. A spouse can waive this right in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.
Pennsylvania imposes an inheritance tax on certain property owned by a deceased Pennsylvania resident and real estate and tangible personal property located in Pennsylvania but owned by a nonresident. The tax rate depends on the relationship to the decedent of the person who receives the property, as follows: 0% for spouses and charitable organizations, 4.5% for children, grandchildren, parents and grandparents; 12% for siblings; and 15% for all others.
Post-mortem planning involves making certain elections and other decisions to help minimize tax, and effectively move assets from the decedent’s estate to its beneficiaries. Post-mortem planning may also involve the interpretation of a decedent’s estate planning documents under federal and state law. Examples of post-mortem tax planning include portability and QTIP (Qualified terminable interest property) elections, which can only be made on a properly filed estate tax return. Other examples include the use of the alternate valuation date and disclaimers.
Will contests are formal objections made against the validity of a Will. The contest may be based on the claim that the Will does not reflect the actual intent of the testator (the person who made the will), or that the will is otherwise invalid because the testator lacked the capacity to make a will, was operating under an insane delusion, or was subject to undue influence or fraud.
Fiduciary deeds are deeds used to transfer property when the grantor is acting in his official capacity as a trustee, guardian, conservator, administrator or executor, all of whom are fiduciaries. The fiduciary, as part of the management of the estate, has the authority to sell property on behalf of the principal owner.
The term “fiduciary accounting” may refer to the statement prepared by a fiduciary (executor, administrator, trustee, or other fiduciary at the close of his administration of a fund (or at some appropriate intermediate stage) to reflect transactions that have occurred and to be presented to the parties in interest as part of a process whereby the fiduciary seeks discharge from liability for the events disclosed.