Is estate administration necessary?

When a loved one dies, a whole new set of issues arise.  Is it necessary to probate his or her will?  What if he or she had no will?  Who has authority to sell his or her property? What taxes need to be paid? The questions sometimes seem endless.

Where to Start

Estate administration begins in the county where the decedent resided at the time of death (the decedent’s primary residence or domicile).  

Probate and estate administration procedures differ from state to state and even from county to county. Understanding the facets of the legal process in the specific county wherein the estate lies is necessary to ensuring that the process is completed timely, efficiently and legally.

What is Probate?

In Pennsylvania, the probate process essentially begins with petitioning the Register of Wills for Letters Testamentary (if there is a will) or Letters of Administration (if there is no will). It is the first step in the estate administration process. Probate involves presenting the necessary information to prove the decedent’s death, have the decedent’s will proven valid and appoint the personal representative/executor of the estate.

Estate Administration

The estate administration process begins once the county Register of Wills office has verified the will (if there is a will) and has granted the personal representative the authority to represent the estate. Estate administration involves taking an inventory of all the decedent’s assets, notifying creditors of the decedent’s death (including publication of notices), paying all valid claims/debts against the estate, filing and paying applicable taxes, distributing assets to beneficiaries, and closing the estate. 

PA Inheritance Taxes

In general, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania imposes an inheritance tax on the date of death value of assets transferred upon the death of a person. The inheritance tax is often imposed on assets that do not pass under a will. Nevertheless, there are a number of exempt transactions, including transfers between spouses and life insurance proceeds. The rates vary between 4.5% for lineal descendants to 15% for unrelated parties. With minor exceptions, an attorney is in the best position to file an inheritance tax return and take advantage of numerous deductions and thus minimize the tax liability.