So where do you begin when asked to handle someone else’s estate as their representative? Our best advice is to get organized first. You can prevent some of the typical errors people make during the probate process by approaching your fiduciary responsibilities in an organized manner. Here is a step-by-step guide for you:
Think about engaging a lawyer to assist you
The idea of opening a probate estate in Pennsylvania can be overwhelming, even if you understand the process. Rather than trying to handle the probate and estate administration procedure alone, your best alternative is to enlist a reliable and experienced Pennsylvania probate attorney. And you’ll want a reliable source for advice and support if you have disagreements with family members over specific assets or any other frequent problems.
Collect all the critical documents.
Although you will probably continue to gather documentation as the estate administration process progresses, your initial effort should be the most thorough. Here are the critical things to start with:
- Original will (if one exists)
- Death certificate
- Real estate deeds, as applicable
- Appraisals for “real property,” as applicable
- Copies of financial account statements
- Copies of investment account statements – these may include dividend statements, stock certificates, savings bonds, and certificates of deposit.
- Outstanding bills and invoices for personal debts owed
- Copies of life insurance policies, including those of beneficiary information
- Prior income tax returns
- Bills for funeral and medical expenses
- Names and current contact details for all beneficiaries/heirs named in the will
Determine any assets that can avoid the probate process
A key factor in deciding whether an item must go through probate is if your friend or family member owned it solely in their name and there was no other person listed as a co-owner or beneficiary. These assets must go through probate, but many other assets can usually avoid the procedure.
If the deceased person and their spouse jointly owned a home, for instance, that real estate asset would be regarded as non-probate property and may often be transferred to the co-owner (joint tenant) without the requirement for a probate court’s approval.
According to special guidelines in Pennsylvania, a few other assets, such as the following, can avoid probate and be transferred to a surviving spouse, children, or more distant relatives: wages, savings, and life insurance.
File the will and petition for probate.
Pennsylvania offers a streamlined probate procedure for estates with assets totaling under $50,000, which excludes real estate values, the non-probate assets you identified in the previous phase, and funds used to cover funeral costs.
You must submit an Estate Information Sheet, a completed petition for probate, and a grant of letters to the local probate court together with the actual will to start the formal probate process, whether it be the simplified or standard procedure.
There is more to opening a probate estate in Pennsylvania than meets the eye. Of course, you can navigate the process with a skilled probate and estate lawyer.