The Law Offices of
ROCHELLE S. RABIN
Malvern, Pennsylvania
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Estate Administration and Probate Services

ESTATE ADMINISTRATION AND PROBATE

Our office provides compassionate and professional estate administration and probate services, helping clients navigate the law at a difficult time.  Services include:

  • Preparing all required court documents to open the estate and satisfy legal notification and filing requirements.
  • Advising the Personal Representative concerning steps needed to administer and close the estate.
  • Advertising the estate.
  • Preparing and filing the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Return.
  • Contacting financial institutions and insurance companies in order to collect funds.
  • Communicating with government agencies.
  • Helping the Personal Representative appraise, list, and sell real estate.
  • Helping appraise and sell items of personal property.
  • Contacting and negotiating with debtors and creditors to resolve outstanding claims.
  • Filing suit on behalf of the estate if necessary.
  • Settling the estate through either the formal or informal accounting process.
  • Distributing bequests to heirs and beneficiaries.
  • Reviewing and, if necessary, revising the estate plan of a surviving spouse or other family member.


COMMON ESTATE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS


ASSETS THAT ARE -- AND AREN'T -- COVERED BY THE DIRECTIONS IN MY WILL:

Q.  When I write my will, that covers all of my assets, right?  Or is there something else that I have to do?

A.   Not all of your assets are covered by the terms of your will. For example, any account that has a beneficiary named will go straight to that beneficiary at your death, rather than passing under the terms under your will, unless you name your estate as the beneficiary. The same goes for insurance policies. Also, anything owned jointly will go in whole or part to the joint owner at your death. Depending the circumstances and on your wishes, having assets pass automatically without going through probate may be a good thing. Or, it may result in your assets passing in a way that is contrary to the estate plan that you think you have put in place. It is important to let your lawyer know about all of your assets, how they are titled, and who the beneficiaries are, so he or she has a complete understanding of what to work with and how to configure your estate plan.  Planning your estate is not just about writing a will.  You may also want to make changes to your beneficiary listings.


OPENING AN ESTATE FOR A LIMITED PURPOSE:

Q.  My husband just died. He and I owned everything jointly, however he also owned an investment property with his brother, who now wants to sell the building. The realtor tells us that we will have to go to the Register of Wills office to open an estate just to be able to sell this building.  Is this true?

A.  Yes. In order to sell the investment property, someone has to be appointed Personal Representative of the estate by the county Register of Wills.  Otherwise, nobody will have official legal authority to act for the estate and sign documents such as the agreement of sale or deed, or to endorse and deposit the check for the proceeds of the sale.  The estate will be required to meet legal formalities such as filing petitions and certifications as required by the court rules, giving proper notices to beneficiaries, etc.


LIVING TRUSTS:

Q.  I was watching a well-known financial expert on television, and she advised that everyone should have a Living Trust as part of their estate plan.  My lawyer didn't advise us to do this.  Why is this? Should I have one?

A.  In some states, a Living Trust can save an estate a lot of money in probate costs.  In Pennsylvania, the probate costs are relatively low (often a few hundred dollars) as compared with other states.  The cost to set up a Living Trust could very well exceed the ultimate savings in probate fees. Note, also, that whether assets pass by way of a will or a Living Trust, Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax will still be due on any taxable assets that go to beneficiaries.


Q.  So, then, is there any advantage to having a Living Trust here in Pennsylvania?

A.   There are a couple of advantages, although they are not great enough to justify recommending the document to most people. However, the advantages are as follows:  1) The estate distribution will be private because the trust document does not have to be filed with the court, meaning that it will not be public record. 2) The trust can provide for someone to manage your assets for you should you become unable to do so. (This may also be accomplished by executing a Durable Power of Attorney.)  The down-side of the Living Trust is that your assets will have to be retitled in the name of the trust in order for the document to be effective. Otherwise, they will pass as part of your probate or administered estate at your death.


WHAT TO DO ABOUT A DELINQUENT EXECUTOR:

Q.  My brother was named executor of our father's estate.  The estate was opened about ten months ago, and I haven't received any accounting or documents telling me what's in the estate.  Aren't I entitled to this information? He and I are supposed to share the estate 50/50, but so far I haven't received a cent.

A.  As an heir and beneficiary, you are absolutely entitled to an accounting of what is in the estate and what expenses and debts have been paid.  Since the estate has passed the 9 month mark, at the very least an Estate Inventory and a Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Return should have been filed by now.  By examining both of those documents, you will obtain a lot of information about what has gone into and come out of the estate.  So, if your brother or the estate's attorney do not voluntarily share information with you, you can go to the county Register of Wills and ask to view the estate file, which should by now contain a copy of the Inventory and the Inheritance Tax Return.  If neither of these documents is in the file at this point, your brother may have missed his filing deadlines for both documents, and the possibility exists that he is not fulfilling his duties as executor, in which case you can consider filing a petition to have him removed and/or provide you with an accounting to date.


INTESTATE ESTATES: APPOINTMENT OF PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE:

Q.  If I don't have a will, will the state act as executor?

A.  Every estate that is administered must have a Personal Representative.  If there is no will, that person is called an Administrator or Administratrix.  The state will not act as Personal Representative, and ordinarily they will not take it upon themselves to just appoint somebody. Someone close to the deceased will often come forward -- usually the next-of-kin -- and petition to be appointed.  In some cases in which there are no close relatives available or willing, a creditor of the estate is permitted to petition for the estate to be brought, and the court will appoint someone in that instance.


BEQUESTS TO THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT:

Q.  I am very grateful for all that this country has done for me, so I would like to leave my estate to the government of the United States, to use the funds for important needs such as infrastructure repairs. I would also like to appoint them as executor.  How does this work?

A.  By federal law, all bequests to the federal government must go toward paying down the national debt.  So, despite the fact that there are identifiable needs in this country, your net estate will be send to the Department of the Treasury and applied toward the debt. So, knowing this, if you would still like to leave your estate to Uncle Sam, go ahead and do it. If you have a cause or project that you believe is important, you might consider leaving your estate to a charitable or educational institution that can further your interests.  Also keep in mind that the US government has no power to act as executor of your estate.  There is nobody in place to act in this role for individual citizens. If you do not appoint someone to act as executor and nobody comes forward to apply, then the county Orphans Court will appoint someone local, who will be compensated for acting as Personal Representative. 
Important disclaimer: The content of this website is for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice. Nothing herein sets up or constitutes a lawyer-client relationship between our office and the reader.
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