Planning for Death: Estate Administration and Probate

Following the loss of a loved one, the estate administration process begins by probating the estate, collecting the loved one’s assets, paying the debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets. An estate includes the property owned by a deceased individual prior to the distribution of the property in accordance with the terms of the will or where no will exists, by the inheritance laws in the state where the decedent last resided. Probate is the court procedure by which the following occur:

  1. The decedent’s will is proved to be valid or invalid.
  2. The property covered by the will is proven to be owned by the decedent.
  3. If there is no will, then it is determined how the property is to be distributed in accordance with the inheritance laws of the state where the decedent resided.
  4. Unpaid creditors of the decedent are given the opportunity to file claims against the estate through publication of the state.
  5. Fees for the administration of the estate are approved and paid.
  6. The probate assets of the estate are then distributed. Before the estate property can be distributed, it is generally necessary to go through probate, or in the case of small estate, a less formal procedure under general supervision of the probate court.

It is important in administrating an estate to look for opportunities to preserve assets for distribution. Reducing estate taxes is one way that an estate can retain more of its value for the decedent’s heirs. Some approaches to accomplishing this include:

  1. Whether the administration expenses and casualty losses should be reported on the estate inheritance tax return on the estate’s income tax return.
  2. Whether there are income tax savings opportunities on the decedents final return, such has whether a joint income tax return should be filed with the surviving spouse.
  3. Whether assets should be valued at the date of the decedent’s death or a later date.

Many people associate probate with large costs and even bigger hassles and think that the smart thing to do is avoid it altogether. Contrary to this belief, the probate of most estates runs smoothly. The court supervision insures that the outstanding debts, taxes and claims against you are paid and that your remaining assets are divided among your heirs. When you die testate (with a will), the court makes its decisions using your will as a guide. When you die intestate (without a will) the court and the state make those decisions for you.

Executor Responsibilities

An executor is the person named by the individual who made the will, the  testator, to carry out the terms and provision of his or her will.  In addition to locating assets and the will, the executor has numerous other legal responsibilities, including initiating the probate of the will, collecting and inventorying the testator’s assets, collecting debts owed to the estate, distributing assets to the beneficiaries of the will and closing the estate.

The attorneys at Mooney & Associates, in Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Perry, and York county Pennsylvania offer a full range of services in the areas of estate administration, probate, and estate planning.