Taking a Will through the Probate Process
In Pennsylvania, as in all states, when you use a will to create an estate plan, the will names a person to act as executor (sometimes referred to as “administrator” or “personal representative.” In essence, the executor is tasked with making certain your will makes its way through the probate court, so that your estate is settled. That duty involves a number of responsibilities
The Executor Must Be Granted Legal Authority
Simply naming a person as your executor in your will is generally not sufficient to give them the legal authority to handle your estate. The executor must first submit the will to the Register of Wills, which must be done in the county where the deceased lived. Once the will has been properly filed, the Register of Wills will issue what are known as “letters testamentary,” giving the executor the power to act as representative of the estate.
The Executor Must Compile an Inventory or Accounting of All Assets of the Estate
After appointment, the executor has nine months to file an inventory of estate assets with the Register of Wills. The inventory includes all real, personal and financial assets. If there is property of uncertain value, the executor must have it appraised or find experts who can determine its value.
The Executor Must Notify All Potential Beneficiaries
Anyone specifically named in a will, or who potentially meets the qualifications to receive a bequest under the will (for example, a child of the deceased if the will leaves certain property “to my children, to be divided equally”). Typically, specific bequests are made first, based on the available assets in the estate. Bequests of a percentage or share of an estate are typically calculated after debts have been paid and specific bequests have been made.
The Executor Must Pay All Final Debts and File All Tax Returns
The estate assets will typically be used to pay final medical bills, funeral expenses, estate administration fees and reasonable debts. A state inheritance and a federal estate tax return must also be filed.
The Executor Must Distribute Assets According to the Terms of the Will
As the final step in the probate process, the executor will prepare an accounting of remaining estate assets, as well as a schedule for the distribution of the remaining estate property. Those documents are filed with the Register of Wills. Once the beneficiaries agree with the planned distribution, the assets will be conveyed as set forth. If there’s any disagreement, an audit of the estate will typically be ordered.
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At Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie, Seelaus & Kraft LLP, we offer experienced and knowledgeable legal counsel to individuals in Pennsylvania. To set up an appointment for a free initial consultation, call us at 610-565-4055 or 302-594-4535 or contact us online.
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