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Probate & Estate Administration Attorneys in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

Losing a loved one can be a harrowing, gut-wrenching experience. When someone passes away — with or without a last will and testament in place — you may be unsure of your next steps.  You do know that you may need to go through estate administration, but what does the process look like for you and your family? 

If you find yourself needing to understand or go through the estate administration or probate process, you may have a lot of questions: What is the probate process? How do I appoint an executor or administrator? What do I do if I’ve been named as an executor or administrator? What happens when someone dies without a will? All of these questions are valid. At Luvara Law Group LLC, our estate administration attorneys are more than prepared to help you answer these questions. Once they’re answered, we’ll guide you through the process every step of the way. If you live in Pittsburgh or anywhere in the state, including Greensburg, Washington, Waynesburg, Uniontown, and New Castle, set up a consultation with our team. 

Estate Administration 

Estate administration is, essentially, what happens to someone’s assets and finances from the time a person passes to the time everything is distributed. The steps may include: 

  • Closing out the estate 

  • Wrapping up estate issues 

  • Accounting for all parts of the estate, including money, property, objects such as jewelry, and any other asset, as well as appointing beneficiaries to receive said assets 

  • Distributing those assets to the appointed beneficiaries 

Estate Administration vs. Probate 

Estate administration is the umbrella term that may include the probate process. Whether there’s a will in place or not, a deceased person’s assets still need to be distributed. When there’s a will, the will needs to be verified to ensure its validity, beneficiaries need to be identified, and an executor needs to be named in accordance with the will. If there’s no will in place, then the state will determine where assets are distributed, as well as who becomes the executor.  

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The Probate Administration Process 

Probate includes authenticating the last will and testament, appointing an executor, notifying creditors, locating assets, paying debts, filing tax returns, and distributing the estate. 

Appointing an Executor or Administrator 

Generally, the deceased individual will have appointed an executor. However, if there was no will (or they didn’t name an executor in the will), then a court will determine who will become the administrator. The person appointed as executor is generally the person closest to the deceased individual.  

The Executor’s Role  

An executor proves the validity of the will and presents the court with all of the assets from the will. They find, secure, and manage those assets. The process can take as little as several months, but it can also take as long as a year.  

Assets That Go Through Probate 

Some assets require probate, while others do not need to go through probate. Probate is only necessary for any property that either the deceased person owned without anyone else’s name on it or shared property that was owned as “tenants in common”, which essentially means that property was named to be shared between two people with a certain percentage shared.   

Assets that do not need to go through probate may include the following: 

  • Retirement accounts 

  • Life insurance proceeds 

  • Property held in a living trust 

  • Any kind of fund or securities registered in a payable-on-death (POD) or transfer-on-death (TOD) form or account 

  • Many more kinds of assets 

Your attorney can help you determine whether the asset needs to go through probate and what the best steps you should take regarding the estate in question. 

Basic Steps to Opening a Pennsylvania Probate Estate

So how do you begin when you’re called upon to be the personal representative for someone’s estate? Most people are overwhelmed by the idea of probating an estate in Pennsylvania. For good reason, no two estates are alike and not all will even require the formal probate process. Reducing worry and stress is best achieved by knowing what the probate process typically entails. Gaining an overview does help.

 The following steps explain what you will need to do to open the probate process here in the state of Pennsylvania.

Hire a Lawyer to Help You

 Your best option for handling the estate administration and probate process efficiently and effectively is to hire an experienced probate and estates attorney to guide you instead of going it alone. Pennsylvania allows individuals to open and work through the entire probate process without legal representation: yet the sheer amount of paperwork, reporting, and management of resources required can be almost too much to bear for most people. And if you encounter disputes with family members over particular assets and other common issues, consulting a lawyer for assistance and support right from the very beginning is in one’s best interest and the interest of the estate.

Don’t face the complex process of estate administration alone. From our office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, our probate and estate administration attorneys proudly serve the surrounding areas of Greensburg, Washington, Waynesburg, Uniontown, and New Castle. For detailed guidance, reach out today, and schedule a meeting.     

Gather Documentation

Gathering documentation throughout the entire estate administration process. It needs to be comprehensive. An experienced probate and estates attorney will need to receive as many of the following items as you can locate for your initial consultation, preferably within a few days or weeks following the funeral:

  • Original Will (if one exists) – Note that if your family member or friend worked with an attorney to create their will, that attorney’s office should have the document on file. One is not obligated to work with that original attorney.

  • Death certificates – You may need many copies of the death certificate as “proof” to have certain assets released. Funeral directors can help you obtain these.

  • Real estate deeds, if the residence or other real property were owned.

  • Appraisals for real property – This could be for real estate assets like homes, as well as for particularly valuable possessions like original artwork, jewelry, and other collections.

  • Copies of financial account statements – Brokerage or bank-based checking and savings accounts are some examples.

  • Copies of investment account statements/documentation – Some examples are stock certificates, dividend statements, certificates of deposit, and savings bonds.

  • Copies of life insurance policies that include beneficiary information

  • Outstanding bills and invoices for personal debts owed – This includes everything from home utility bills and property taxes to credit card statements and loan payments that are due.

  • Bills for funeral and medical expenses for taking deductions

  • Prior income tax returns

  • Names and current contact information for all beneficiaries/heirs named in the will

Determine Assets that Can Skip Probate

An experienced probate and estates attorney can help you separate probate assets from non-probate assets. Determining whether an asset must go through probate is often a question of whether it was owned by your friend or family member only in his or her name, and no one else is a co-owner or beneficiary of the asset. These types of assets will need to go through probate, while many other assets can typically bypass the process. For example, if the deceased person owned a home together with a spouse as in joint tenancy or as tenancy in the entireties), that real estate asset would be considered non-probate property, and can generally be transferred to the co-owner without the need for probate court.

Another example of assets that can skip probate would be accounts or policies that have a designated beneficiary in place. Designated beneficiaries will receive a particular asset without probate. Other assets may skip probate and be passed along to a surviving spouse, children, or more distant relatives based on specific rules in Pennsylvania, including:

Bank accounts – Up to $10,000 may be released from financial institutions to a surviving spouse or other family member with proper “proof” to the institution that holds the account. A copy of the death certificate and a receipt for paid funeral expenses are necessary.

Wages – Employers may pay up to $5,000 in compensation (wages, salary, bonuses, etc.) to the employee’s surviving spouse or other family member.

Life insurance – Up to $11,000 in benefits, if not claimed by the personal representative of the estate within 60 days of the insured’s death, can be paid out to the surviving spouse or another close family member.

File the Will and Petition for Probate

After you’ve determined what assets are exempt from probate, other assets may not be and may still require probate, and it’s time to actually open probate on the estate. The good news is that if the estate is small the process may likely will be limited. Pennsylvania offers a simplified probate process for estates with assets totaling less than $50,000, when it does not include real estate values. Determining whether the simplified process can be used instead of the regular formal process will be made when you file your deceased friend or family member’s will with the court in the county where that individual was legally domiciled (made their home) at the time of death. If granted, you may be permitted to distribute your loved one’s assets to heirs named in the will without going through all of the stages of formal probate, which will save time and expense.

Officially beginning probate, whether the simplified or regular formal process, one will need to provide an Estate Information Sheet and completed petition for probate and grant of letters along with the original will to the local probate court. Many Pennsylvania counties now utilize the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s standardized Register of Wills and Orphans’ Court forms instead of their own proprietary forms, though many individual counties do provide instructions and guidance on completing and submitting forms.

If deceased person had an existing will, then they died testate. But is there is not a will, then a person died intestate, so that there was not a named executor/executrix. Probate permits a grant of permission via Letters of Administration in a specific order beginning with the surviving spouse, then the intestate heirs, such as the children and other family members, principal creditors, and other fit persons. There is a filing fee that must be remitted to receive Letters, and that is based on the value of the estate.

After the probate case has been opened and Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration have been issued, there will be several stages and steps that you will need to work through over the course of months. Determining if the will is self-proving, meaning that you do not need to get further information from witnesses. This usually means that the persons signing as the decedent and the witnesses had their signatures notarized at the time of the execution of the will. The next steps are briefly, as follows:

  1. Giving notice that probate is beginning --Advertising

  2. Gathering and inventorying assets

  3. Selling estate property, as applicable

  4. Determining tax liability for the estate and planning payments to tax authorities

  5. Distributing assets and preparing the final accounting

  6. Discharging the estate

Probate & Estate Administration Attorneys in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Don’t face the complex process of estate administration alone. From our office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, our probate and estate administration attorneys proudly serve the surrounding areas of Greensburg, Washington, Waynesburg, Uniontown, and New Castle. For detailed guidance, reach out today, and schedule a meeting.