The death of a loved one, regardless of the circumstances, is an emotional time often filled with uncertainty. At Crocker & Crocker, PC, we are here to assist you regarding the probate process and process from start to finish, advise you regarding your duties and responsibilities and develop a strategy to properly administer the decedent’s estate. Not all situations require probate, but whenever someone dies, it is important to review the decedent’s assets, benefits, debts and obligations with a probate and estate attorney to determine if other action may be required.
Probate is the formal recognition or granting of authority to the personal representative of a decedent’s estate called an Executor if the decedent had a Will, or the Administrator when a decedent had no Will or in certain circumstances where the named Executor is unavailable or unable to serve or is removed for some reason. Regardless of the title of the personal representative, the administration of an estate through the probate process is relatively the same and involves four basic objectives:
- Marshalling the assets – identifying, valuing and gathering the assets of the decedent
- Paying the debts of the decedent – in the event of an insolvency (referenced below) debts are paid in a statutory order of priority. It is important NOT to pay OR advance any debts of the decedent without the advice of a probate and estate attorney.
- Discharging the tax liabilities of the decedent and the estate – including Pennsylvania Inheritance, and where applicable, Federal Estate Taxes.
- Distributing the remaining estate assets to the beneficiaries entitled under the terms of the Will, or if there is no will, to the heirs under the intestate laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Trust Administration has the same four basic objectives as probate, except that the terms of the Trust govern the conditions of distribution and some other aspects of administration.
Where the decedent held all assets jointly with their spouse or others and/or all assets have designated beneficiaries and the decedent held no assets in their individual name, probate may not be necessary. It may, however, still be necessary to file a Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax return and pay Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax on a portion or all of the assets so titled or recently transferred or gifted by the decedent. For decedents with a high net worth, Federal Estate Tax review of the decedent’s assets may also be necessary regardless of the need to probate in order to determine if a Federal Estate Tax Return is required to be filed or tax paid due or tax credits may be carried forward by the surviving spouse.
Another aspect of estate administration involves small estates that have a gross value of $50,000 or less that can be handled without formal probate through the filing of a Petition to Settle A Small Estate, use of a small estate Affidavit or other statutory provisions related to certain small deposit accounts, employer compensation and benefits, burial funds and nursing home resident accounts.
Estates are also sometimes insolvent, meaning there are not enough probate assets in the individual’s own name that would pass through their estate to pay their bills. Where enough information is available, the solvency of the estate may be immediately apparent and it may not make economic sense to probate an estate. In other situations, where the personal representative does not have knowledge or access to information at, or shortly after, the decedent’s death, probate may be necessary to determine whether or not an estate is solvent and the insolvent status.
At Crocker & Crocker, PC, we will review your particular situation, and assist you determining what, if any, action must be taken.