Probate in PA, the estate administration process and estate settlement can be both a complex and stressful experience for those unfamiliar. There are many responsibilities and court rules to follow when it comes probating a will and settling an estate in Pennsylvania, and in most cases it is advisable to use the services of an estate attorney. Strict adherence to various timelines is required when closing an estate. Pennsylvania probate law is primarily governed by the “Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code” (otherwise known as the PEF Code found at Title 20 Pa.C.S. § 101, et seq.) along with state and local of Rules of Court. The probate of a decedent’s last will and testament and the estate administration process starts with the filing of a petition with the Register of Wills of the county in which the decedent had his or her last family or principal residence. If the decedent died with a last will and testament, the executor of the will or the executrix of the will files a petition for Letters Testamentary so that he or she may be authorized and empowered to be begin administering the estate after the will has been probated. If the decedent died intestate (meaning without a will), a petition for Letters of Administration can be filed by someone entitled to benefit under the decedent’s estate. Generally speaking, this can include a relative, surviving spouse or even a creditor of the decedent. If the petition is granted, the person is appointed as an administrator of the estate – or an administratrix of the estate – and is authorized and empowered to administer the estate just as an executor or executrix would be in the case of a last will and testament. One of the main differences between the two scenarios is that, in the case of a last will and testament, distribution of estate assets is dictated by the terms of the will; whereas, in the case of intestacy, distribution of estate assets is dictated by state law.
Once Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration have been issued by the Register of Wills, a series of important responsibilities and timelines ensue which include, but are not limited to, the following: advertising the estate with a notice to creditors, providing required beneficiary notices, providing notice to the Pennsylvania Attorney General, Charitable Trusts and Organizations Section (if necessary in the case of bequests made to charitable beneficiaries), procuring the estate tax identification number from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), opening an estate checking account, complying with statutory requirements relating to any DPW obligations, locating and securing all estate assets, safeguarding the property of the decedent, liquidating assets as necessary, paying the decedent’s outstanding debts (to the extent such debts are just, valid and/or enforceable), procuring date of death valuations, procuring necessary appraisals, dealing with the disposition of any real estate, dealing with any claims brought against the estate, making claims on behalf of the estate as appropriate, preparing and filing the Inventory with the Register of Wills, preparing and filing the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Return (Form REV-1500) , preparing and filing state and federal tax returns as necessary, paying required taxes, funding any testamentary trusts, coordinating with professionals as necessary, preparing the final account, preparing release and settlement documents, handling court filings as appropriate and/or required, appearing in court to the extent necessary and making distributions.
For their part, an executor/executrix or administrator/administratrix is entitled to be paid a commission for their service to the estate and is permitted to retain legal counsel to represent them throughout the probate process or estate administration process. Both the commission and attorney’s fee are classified as administrative expenses and are typically paid out of the assets of the estate.
The Law Office of Joseph M. Adams can assist you throughout the entire estate administration and probate process. Please feel free to contact Mr. Adams directly at 215-996-9977.