When a loved one passes away, most people experience a period of deep emotions during which they do not want to be bothered with the practical legal ramifications of their loved one’s death. If you were named as the Executor of the estate of a recently departed loved one, however, you must deal with those practical and legal issues as part of your job as the Executor. Keep in mind that the decedent had a considerable amount of faith in your ability to keep a level head and do a good job administering his/her estate.
To help guide you through this process, I have a network of professionals that are available to assist and advise you. Some of those professionals are:
To get you started, here is some “simplified” information about probate. If you would like to contact me directly with your probate real estate questions, call/text (610) 601-6637.
It may help to gain a better understanding of the probate process and why it is required after someone dies. When an individual dies, he or she leaves behind assets. Those assets make up the decedent’s estate. Probate is the term given to the legal process that oversees the eventual transfer of those estate assets to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate. Probate also serves other functions, including:
If you have agreed to serve as the executor of a family member’s estate, you will be responsible for guiding the estate through probate. This involves taking inventory and distributing the person’s assets after he or she dies, with the court’s oversight.
Familiarize yourself with the way Pennsylvania probate works before becoming an executor.
Certain assets have exemption from Pennsylvania probate, which means that the executor does not need court approval to transfer these items to the named beneficiary. Exempt property includes:
Types of Pennsylvania probate
If the estate contains less than $50,000 in non-exempt assets, the executor can apply for the simplified probate process. The threshold applies only after the estate pays for the person’s funeral expenses. The local court can approve simplified probate, allowing the executor to move forward with paying the estate’s debts and distributing property.
Larger estates must undergo Pennsylvania’s formal probate process. You must submit the will and a petition for probate to the register of wills in the county where the deceased person lived, along with the required filing fee.
The court will review the will and issue a document that gives you the authority to act in the estate’s interest, known as the Letters Testamentary. When the will has no witnesses with confirmation from a notary, you cannot distribute the person’s assets until you have sworn statements from all witnesses.
Once you have received the Letters Testamentary, you must publish notice of probate in two local papers so that creditors, heirs and the public have a chance to make claims to the estate.
At the time of your death, you will leave behind an estate that consists of all the assets you owned or had an ownership interest in at the time of death. This includes both real and personal property as well as both tangible and intangible assets. Probate is the legal process that many of those assets must go through before eventually being transferred to the intended beneficiaries or legal heirs of the estate. Probate also ensures that all estate assets will be identified, located, secured, and valued as well as all creditors notified and provided with the opportunity to file claims against the estate. Federal and/or state gift and estate taxes are also paid as part of the probate process. If there is a Last Will and Testament, probate also authenticates the Will, or in the alternative, provides the legal forum for contesting the authenticity of the Will.
If you are unfamiliar with what happens during the probate of an estate, you may wonder why it matters if assets are required to be part of that process. The answer can be found in the time and money expended on the probate process. In the State of Illinois, for example, creditors have a minimum of three months and may have up to two years just to file claims against the estate. Those claims must then be evaluated and paid if approved. That means that even a relatively simple estate could take anywhere from several months to several years to make it through the probate process. The assets that are art of this process, therefore, remain tied up in probate until the end of the process. Add to that the cost of probate and it becomes clear why limiting your estate’s exposure to probate is a worthwhile estate planning goal. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this goal is to convert as many assets as possible to non-probate assets.
Fortunately, not all assets are subject to the probate process. These non-probate assets bypass probate altogether and can be distributed to the intended beneficiaries almost immediately after your death. Among the more common non-probate assets are:
By converting as many of your estate assets as possible to non-probate assets you can significantly decrease your estate’s exposure to the probate process after you are gone.
This information is for informational purposes only. It is not to be taken as legal or tax advice. For that consult an attorney or tax advisor.