When a loved one passes, family members are often left to figure out what to do next. If their loved one left a will they have to probate the will and begin to gather assets and otherwise organize the estate from beginning to end.
We provide those services on a scale within each family’s comfort zone; from day to day involvement to merely filing the proper paperwork on behalf of the estate.
We meet with clients to discuss how they want to distribute their assets when they die. We advise based upon federal and state law taking each client’s individual circumstances into consideration .
We draft wills, trusts, health care power of attorney documents and general power of attorney documents that reflect each client’s situation. Clients can either take their documents home with them or we can retain them in the office.
Estate Planning & Administration FAQ
What should I consider when deciding on an executor for my estate?
Being the executor for an estate involves a considerable amount of work, and includes the following responsibilities:
- Gathering all the assets of your estate.
- Ensuring that all your debts, bills and taxes are paid out of the money in your estate.
- Distributing the remainder of your estate (after payment of debts, bills and taxes) in accordance with your Will.
- Holding assets or money ‘in trust’ for a beneficiary, if this is a requirement of your Will, e.g. if the beneficiary is under 18 at the time of your death.
- Dealing with all the paperwork related to your estate.
It is important to choose your executor(s) with care, as these responsibilities can be difficult for someone who is unaccustomed to dealing with official and financial matters. In certain circumstances, an executor who makes an error in carrying out these responsibilities can be held personally liable for any loss suffered by another person as a result.
It is also advisable to speak to the person you are considering appointing as an executor before naming that person in your Will, to ensure that they are willing to undertake this responsibility.
What happens if the executor I have chosen does not want the responsibility?
The courts will appoint a new executor that they feel is qualified. That is why it is important to ask ahead of time and appoint someone who you know is qualified and will take on the responsibility.
What is the difference between an estate tax and an inheritance tax?
An estate tax is a tax imposed on property transferred by will or intestate succession after the death of the property owner. An estate tax differs from an inheritance tax, which is imposed on the person who inherits the property (rather than on the property itself). Therefore, in an inheritance situation, both the property and the beneficiary may be subject to tax.
Why might I need to set up a trust?
A trust is a practical way to manage and transfer property in the best interest of a beneficiary. A trust is private and not under the control and supervision of the courts. Used as a substitute for a Will, it avoids the probate process since the trust property is a non-probate asset. Trusts do require administration, which is the function of a trustee appointed by you.
What does probating a Will mean?
Probating is the official proving of a Will as authentic or valid in a probate court. After a person passes away, his/her estate (all he/she owns) must go through the court system. That is, it passes through probate. The assets are distributed as the Will directs or as the court sees fit if there is no Will. The process is a lot easier with a good Will. Once the probate court has approved the Will or, in intestate cases, has granted administration, the court issues Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration.
What if there is no Will or a Will can’t be located?
Death without a valid Will is called intestacy. In cases where a thorough search has been conducted and no Will can be found or where no Will is known to exist, the distribution of the estate is determined by the state’s law called the intestate succession statute. The state’s intestate succession statute determines who will receive the decedent’s property which may be entirely different than those individuals you would want to receive your property.
Does all property go through probate when a person dies?
No. Many retirement accounts, life insurance and joint titled assets will pass independent of the probate process if a beneficiary is properly identified by the decedent. Probate assets usually include bank accounts, stocks real estate and the decedent’s personal property.
How long does the process of probating a Will take?
The answer can depend on many factors.
- Where does the personal representative live? The distance between where the personal representative lives and where the attorney is located can be a factor. Today’s technology makes things easier but the ability to have the personal representative meet for a quick meeting or sign documents in original signature (as opposed to a faxed or emailed signature) can be limit how quickly things get done.
- How many beneficiaries there are and where they are located? Probate will take longer if the beneficiaries live further away. It takes time to send documents back and forth to multiple beneficiaries.
- Will the beneficiaries disagree? The more beneficiaries disagree, the longer the probate process takes. Some beneficiaries even hire their own attorneys which can complicate the process and make it take longer.
- Will the Will be contested? If the Will is contested, the probate proceedings will take longer.
- Is the estate taxable? An estate that is subject to federal estate tax will most likely take longer than a nontaxable estate. The majority of estates administered in Pennsylvania are subject to PA inheritance tax.
- How complicated are the assets? The administration of the estate can be more complicated when the estate is comprised of assets such as an interest in a family business, stocks, bonds, patents, and/or copyrights. In general, the more assets, the more complicated the estate.
What is a Power of Attorney?
A Power of Attorney is a document authorizing another person to act as your agent or attorney in fact in matters such as financial transactions, business dealings and banking transactions.
What is a Health Care directive?
A Health Care Directive is a legal document which allows you to determine, in advance and in writing, the kind of future medical care and treatment you wish to have in case you become incapacitated or terminally ill, or to appoint an agent to exercise your wishes to continue or discontinue future medical treatment.