Estate Administration

When a loved one passes away, it is necessary to move through the process of finalizing their estate. This process is called estate administration. In Pennsylvania, estates are handled through a special court called the Orphans’ court. This is a unique system requiring an attorney who is familiar with this specific court and its rules. An attorney with over 20 years’ experience, Mary Schellhammer brings the background you need to help you administer an estate or assist you if you have concern about how an estate is being managed.

Estate Administration in Somerset, Cambria & Bedford

Mary focuses her practice in the Western Pennsylvania counties of Somerset, Cambria & Bedford, Pennsylvania. She is familiar with the intricacies of these counties’ Registers of Wills, courts and processes in these counties. When you retain Mary to help you administer an estate, you can be certain that she will handle all matters with the utmost ethics, integrity, and efficiency.

Your Responsibilities as the Executor of an Estate

If you were appointed the executor of an estate, you have a big job ahead of you. The executor of an estate has a lot of responsibilities they must perform properly. Otherwise they could become personally liable. This is why may executors choose to retain a lawyer to represent the estate and make sure the process is handled correctly

The personal representative of the estate is required to safeguard the decedent’s assets to make certain they are not lost, stolen, or destroyed. They also must notify creditors and beneficiaries or heirs. In addition, the representative must file an inventory of the decedent’s assets as well as a final tax return within the required time period. The personal representative is responsible for filing status reports with the Register of Wills and for making sure all final expenses, taxes, and debts are paid.

There are a lot of legal processes and technicalities the representative must meet, and these technicalities can be both complex and confusing. The executor also must act with fiduciary responsibility, which means in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries. Failure to do so can result in financial liability.

What Does Estate Administration in Pennsylvania Include?

Every estate is different, and therefore the process of administering each estate varies. Most estates in Pennsylvania must go through the process called Probate. The length of this process varies greatly based on whether there are any disputes, and other factors.

In general though, your estate administration attorney will:

  • Locate any documents the decedent completed, such as a will
  • File the will with the Register of Wills in the appropriate county
  • Locate, gather, protect, and catalog all assets, both financial and other
  • Identify creditors, debtors, beneficiaries, and heirs
  • Provide appropriate notice to potential creditors, beneficiaries, and heirs through publication
  • Complete and file final taxes
  • Pay final debts
  • Complete an audit of the estate
  • Obtain releases
  • Distribute financial and other assets to the beneficiaries
  • Close the estate

The order in which these tasks occur varies based on the circumstances. For example, there may be several times at which beneficiaries receive portions of their inheritance. Depending upon the complexity of the estate, there may be numerous points at which the executor needs to audit the estate and provide reports. If the person died without a will, this adds additional complexity to the situation.

What if Someone Dies Without a Will?

When someone passes away without a will they are considered to have died intestate. In such a case, the Register of Wills provides Letters of Administration to a personal representative. This representative is known as an administrator/administratix. The choice of this representative is made based upon their legal relationship to the deceased. Once appointed, the administrator has the same responsibilities as the personal representative.

The law of succession in Pennsylvania identifies heirs based upon a specific familial relationship. Those potential heirs include:

  • Spouse
  • Surviving Children and/or Grandchildren (known as issue)
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Grandparents
  • Uncles, Aunts and their Children and Grandchildren
  • The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
    • Pennsylvania only inherits if no other relatives can be found

There are many different ways in which an estate may be distributed. However, the spouse and surviving children always have the highest priority.  When people pass without a will it tends to add substantial complexity and expense to the process of managing the estate. This is why it is important to have a will, even if you do not have much in the way of assets.

Need Help Administering an Estate?

If you are the executor of an estate or need assistance with the estate of someone who passed without a will, Mary Schellhammer can help. Mary handles estate administration in Somerset, Cambria, and Bedford counties in Pennsylvania. She has many years’ experience handling estates of all amounts and levels of complexity. Reach out to Mary today to find out how she can help.