When a loved one passes away, it can be a very stressful and emotional time. If you have been named Executor (Executrix) or Administrator of their estate, that is an added responsibility to handle during an already difficult time. I will discuss some general topics on estate administration to provide some basic information that could be useful in this situation.
Administering an estate through the court system is known as the probate process. Although some people believe they could probably handle finalizing a loved one’s estate alone, and you are not required to have an attorney involved in the process, it can be very helpful to retain an experienced probate attorney to assist with the probate process.
You will need to gather information – in some situations, that means a lot of information. If the decedent (deceased person) had a will, you want the original signed will, if possible. It is possible to probate a copy of the will, if the original cannot be found, but the original is ideal. Depending on how the will was executed, you may need witnesses to appear at the Register of Wills’ office also. The funeral home will usually obtain copies of the death certificate for you and you can get more later if necessary. Filing the will, death certificate and other required paperwork with the Register of Wills’ office to officially be appointed as executor or administrator of the estate is a vital first step.
You will need to gather documentation of all liabilities owed, such as household expenses, utilities, credit card debts, loans, mortgages and other debts. You will need to establish an estate bank account in order to manage finances after the decedent has passed. This will allow you to pay these ongoing expenses and debts and provide an account into which you will deposit all funds received by the estate.
You will also need to identify all assets the decedent owned and make sure those assets are accounted for and protected. You may need to handle selling assets and keeping the proceeds in the estate bank account. The ultimate goal of administering the estate is to pay the debts and distribute the remaining assets according to the instructions from the will or the intestacy statute, which is the law that controls how an estate is distributed when someone dies without a valid will.
You will need to file an inheritance tax return on behalf of the estate. You may also need to file one or more income tax returns for the decedent. Therefore, you may need to work with a tax expert to handle the tax filing.
I have pointed out some of the routine tasks required for virtually every estate. Along with those universal tasks are many other issues that an executor or administrator must address, and every estate is unique.
If you live or work in the central Pennsylvania area, including Carlisle, Harrisburg, Hershey and surrounding communities and would like to discuss Estate Administration or any other family law or estate planning issue, please contact me.