An estate attorney can help you navigate the probate process after the loss of a loved one

To start, an experienced estate attorney will help you understand the process by breaking down the Estate Administration process into segments governed by certain deadlines. Some of these come fairly quickly after the decedent passes away, so prompt attention is key.
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The first three months of estate administration are the most important

To start, an experienced estate attorney will help you understand the process by breaking down the Estate Administration process into segments governed by certain deadlines. Some of these come fairly quickly after the decedent passes away, so prompt attention is key. For example, if you want to take advantage of the 5% pre-payment discount on the Estate’s Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax, you will need to file an initial return and make an estimated pre-payment within 3 months of the decedent’s date of death.

Time is important during the Estate Process

Several other tasks must also be completed within this 3-month period. When the Executor petitions the Register of Wills for the Grant of Letters Testamentary (or Letters of Administration if there is no Will), the Grant of Letters must be advertised in one periodical of general circulation (e.g. a local newspaper) and the county legal journal, if one exists. This must be done once per week for three consecutive weeks.

The Executor must also send Notices of Estate Administration to each beneficiary of the Will, as well as the decedent’s surviving spouse and children, whether or not they are named in, or have an interest under, the Will. If the decedent passed away without a Will – called intestacy – the intestate heirs, as identified by Pennsylvania Statute (20 Pa.C.S.A. § 2101, et seq), must be given Notice. Either way, proof of this Notice must then be filed with the Register of Wills within 3 months.

Locate and Identify Assets

It will also be during this initial 3-month period where the Executor will be tasked with locating and identifying all of the assets of the Estate. Sometimes this is straightforward, and the decedent’s property is easily located. If they owned only one house, you’ll be able to find that fairly quickly. If they did all of their banking at only one institution, that too will smooth things along in finding financial assets. However, if the decedent had multiple accounts across multiple locations, had cash stashed away in dresser drawers, inside books (I’ve seen it happen), or if they had an extensive investment portfolio, some sleuthing may be required. Diligence is required to identify all of the Estate property, especially if you want to receive the 5% discount on the ultimate Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax. After all, if you don’t have a clear idea of all the Estate assets, it will be difficult to calculate an accurate estimated tax pre-payment.

What is the job of an estate attorney?

Losing a loved one is a difficult and emotional time. In addition to dealing with the grief, there are also legal matters that need attention, especially when it comes to handling the deceased person's estate. This is where an estate administration attorney can be of great assistance.

  • Filing the Initial Paperwork to Open the Estate
  • Handle Publication of the Estate
  • Deal with Claims Against the Estate
  • Fight Contests to the Estate
  • Assist with Liquidation of Large Estate Assets
  • Draft the Inheritance Tax Return
  • Draft an Informal or Formal Accounting
  • Close the Estate

What happens after the initial three months of estate administration?

From there, the next deadline you want to keep in mind is the 6-month mark. Here is when the Executor should ideally file the initial Inventory (though the “drop-dead” date is really 9 months from the date of death under 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 3301(c)). The inventory is exactly what it sounds like: A statement to the Register of Wills of all the property of the Estate. The process that you went through earlier in gathering up all of the decedent’s property will be put into writing here.

Finally, the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax return must be filed, and the final tax paid, within 9 months of the date of death. Again, if you made a good-faith pre-payment, the Estate’s tax burden will be reduced by 5%. When you draw up your final Inheritance Tax return and factor in the pre-payment and the discount, you may owe very little or may even be entitled to a refund if it ends up that you overpaid early on. Important to note: Similar to your income taxes, there are deductions that are available to Estates on Inheritance Tax. Don’t miss these!

Throughout all of this will be numerous other tasks, both small (obtaining an EIN and setting up an Estate bank account) and large (liquidating real property) that the Executor will need to accomplish, all with the ultimate goal of making distribution of the Estate assets to the beneficiaries as the decedent wished. Having an experienced attorney with you at each step can be invaluable in accomplishing this goal.

An estate attorney will guide you through the probate process.

For over a decade, we have guided clients through the complex process of probate, often saving them thousands of dollars in Inheritance Tax liability. We have also successfully managed the administration of estates where family conflicts existed, ensuring that the decedent's wishes were fulfilled. 
William P. Harrington, Jr., ESQ. Estate Attorney
William P. Harrington, Jr., ESQ.

If you need a Lancaster Attorney, contact The Law Offices of William P. Harrington, Jr., ESQ and talk for free!

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