Named Executors are free to decide whether they wish to retain an attorney to help them through the probate and estate administration process in Pennsylvania. From a practical standpoint, proceeding with the help of an experienced PA probate attorney may prevent significant and unnecessary problems and delays with the process.
What is the PA “Probate Process” and How is an Estate Administered?
Generally, in Pennsylvania, “probate” is defined as the process of legally establishing the validity of an individual’s Will before a judicial authority after his or her death. Probate entails “proving” a Will by submitting it to the Register of Wills of the county which the deceased individual was residing. If the Will is valid, the Register then appoints an Executor or “Personal Representative” (usually named in the Will), to administer the estate.
The administration of an estate in PA includes a number of other responsibilities in addition to proving the Will which must be completed by an Executor before the estate can be “closed”, including:
- Providing notice to estate beneficiaries and heirs
- Providing notice to estate creditors
- Completing and filing a PA Estate Inventory
- Opening an estate bank account
- Paying debts of the estate
- Settling claims against the estate
- Selling estate assets, including real estate
- Preparing and filing a PA Inheritance Tax Return and an estate tax return
- Distribution of estate assets
- Orphans’ Court litigation, if necessary
- Formally closing the estate
Potential Issues when Administering an Estate
The following list is by no means all-inclusive, but provides a few common problems and/or issues which Executors typically run into when attempting to handle an estate without the help of experienced PA probate attorneys:
- Where is the Will to be Probated? – Probate laws are complex and every state and county has its own process, fees, and procedure. Tangible and intangible personal property, such as an individual’s collectibles and bank accounts, are probated in the state where he or she resided. However, real estate is treated differently and is probated where the property is actually located. For example, if a decedent owns a house in PA and a vacation home in Florida, it is the job of the Executor to go through the probate process in both states.
- Time Requirements – Properly administering an estate does not happen overnight. Estate administrations can last months, or even years, depending on the size of the estate and the individuals involved. If proceeding without the help of a PA probate attorney, an Executor should be prepared to invest significant time into properly administering an estate.
- Litigation – It is not uncommon for complications to arise throughout the estate administration process, often unexpectedly, which may result in litigation. As stated above, the duties of an Executor include appearing in Orphan’s Court, if necessary, to litigate any potential lawsuits. These lawsuits often come about as a result of people not being satisfied with what they’ve received from the Will, wanting to challenge the validity of the Will, or wishing to challenge the Executor’s actions. Out-of-state Executors may be under additional pressure to then travel to the state where the estate is being administered in order to defend against such claims.
- Personal Liability – Since Executors are responsible for gathering and protecting assets, complying with the terms of the Will, calculating taxes, and satisfying debts and obligations of the estate, the Executor can be held personally liable for any actions or mistakes under Pennsylvania law. The consequences of inadvertently mishandling the estate assets can be severe and long-lasting. However, with the help of experienced PA probate attorneys, Executors are far less likely to make mistakes or poor decisions.
PA Probate Attorneys
In PA, an Executor is considered a fiduciary, meaning that he or she is held to the highest standard of loyalty and care that the law provides. While it is not required that an Executor hire a PA probate attorney to help administer the estate, the responsibilities of an Executor are complex, the process may be overwhelming, and an Executor may be personally and financially liable if poor decisions are made. Experienced PA probate attorneys can provide much needed legal guidance, as well as make an estate administration a much more manageable process.
The experienced PA probate attorneys at The Martin Law Firm regularly assist Executors with probate and estate administration matters in Montgomery County, PA and the surrounding counties. Our PA probate attorneys will be glad to speak with you if you are a named Executor. Contact the experienced PA probate attorneys at The Martin Law Firm today at 215-646-3980.