THIS INFORMATION HAS BEEN ISSUED TO INFORM AND NOT TO ADVISE.
IT IS BASED ON PENNSYLVANIA LAW. THE STATEMENTS ARE GENERAL, AND INDIVIDUAL
FACTS IN A GIVEN CASE MAY ALTER THEIR APPLICATION OR INVOLVE OTHER LAWS NOT
REFERRED TO HERE. THE INFORMATION BELOW WAS PREPARED BY THE YOUNG LAWYERS
SECTION OF THE PENNSYLVANIA BAR ASSOCIATION.
Estates: An Overview
What is Estate Administration?
When an individual dies, it is often necessary to follow
formal procedures in settling the estate. This process is called ESTATE
ADMINISTRATION. Both state and federal law establish certain requirements which
must be followed.
The word ESTATE is used to describe the property and obligations of a person
who has died. ADMINISTRATION includes procedures and requirements relating to
collecting of assets, satisfying of obligations such as debts, expenses and
taxes, and distributing property to the heirs and beneficiaries.
When is formal Estate Administration required?
In almost every case when a person dies having personal
property or real estate, an estate should be administered.
Who administers an estate?
A PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE is the individual charged with
administration of an estate. The personal representative works with an attorney
in complying with necessary legal requirements. If an individual has executed a
will during his or her lifetime, the will should designate the personal
representative, who is called an EXECUTOR.
If the deceased person did not have a will, an ADMINISTRATOR will be appointed
to handle the estate. The administrator will generally be the surviving husband
or wife or the children of the deceased. The individuals entitled to administer
an estate are established by law.
What does a Personal Representative do?
An executor or administrator must obtain the necessary legal
documents to enable him to act for the estate. These documents, called either
LETTERS TESTAMENTARY (for an executor) or LETTERS OF ADMINISTRATION (for an
administrator), are obtained through the Register of Wills in the county in
which the DECEDENT (the deceased person) lived at the time of death.
The duties of the personal representative include:
|Finding the will and having it PROBATED. Probate is the legal procedure used to establish the validity of a will
|Finding and notifying the heirs.
|Locating and protecting the assets of the estate.
|Paying the debts, expenses, and taxes of the estate from the assets of the estate.
|Complying with the requirements of state and federal law.
|Distributing property to the heirs after all proper procedures have been followed.
Is an Attorney necessary in Estate Administration?
As a practical matter, it is very difficult for a non-lawyer
to correctly follow the required procedures in administering an estate without
the assistance of an attorney. The personal representative selects the attorney
for the estate. If there is a will, it is a courtesy to the deceased to use the
attorney who prepared the will. Otherwise, the executor or administrator may
use an attorney who is known or who has been recommended. An attorney can also
be located through a lawyer referral service, which will be listed in the
yellow pages under the heading of "Attorneys," "Lawyers," "Attorney Referral
Service," or "Lawyer Referral Service."
What role does the Will have in Estate
If the deceased has left a will, it is filed for probate in
the office of the Register of Wills in the county in which the decedent
resided. If the will is valid, its directions are followed in distributing the
estate to the beneficiaries.
What is done during Administration?
At the beginning, all assets of the estate, including
personal possessions and real estate, are inventoried and sometimes physically
gathered. All of the beneficiaries (if there is a will) or heirs (if there is
no will) are located. They are told that they were named in the will or have a
legal right to receive an inheritance. Funeral expenses, debts, state and
federal taxes are paid, and necessary tax returns are filed.
Sometimes administration may involve the short-term management of a business or
corporation or sale of a business or stock in a corporation. There could also
be sale of real estate which was owned by the deceased.
At the conclusion of the administration period, a final accounting of all
assets is presented for approval to the county court. After approval,
distribution of the balance of assets is accomplished.
The average estate should take about a year to conclude the administration.
Large or complex estates may take considerably longer to administer.
What Fees are paid during Administration?
In addition to court costs, fees (usually based on a
percentage of the gross value of the estate) are paid to the attorney and to
the personal representative. These fees are paid out of the assets of the
estate. Fee arrangements should be discussed during the first visit with the
attorney who sill be involved in the administration of the estate.
What should be done first?
If someone close to you has died, it is suggested that
nothing be done to disturb any of the property of the deceased unless it is
necessary to protect it from being lost or destroyed. Shortly after the
funeral, an attorney should be contacted to discuss the matter with those close
to the deceased. In general, the surviving husband or wife should make the
initial contact if he or she resided with the decedent. In other situations it
is recommended that the closest relatives contact the attorney.
The lawyer will provide advice, determine whether administration will be
required, and explain what procedures will be involved. If a will is found, the
person named as executor should protect the will and give it to the attorney at
the first consultation.