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Estate Administration or Settlement

When a loved one dies, the grieving process can take many years, and still, the loss can sometimes never be resolved. It is a sensitive time; however, there are things that must be handled in a timely manner, such as transferring the ownership of the house, furniture, clothing, jewelry, other personal belongings, and the car to the heirs of the estate.

What family members sometimes forget is that there are laws governing the transfer of these items, especially if there is no will which means the decedent died intestate. Properties such as stocks and bonds, bank and retirement accounts, and real estate must be handled in one of several ways: by operation of law, by intestate law, by a last will and testament, or by a trust created during the life of the decedent that provides conditions for the transfer.

Estate settlement by a professional can set a course that follows legal requirements, pays creditors, potentially saves yet pays taxes, eliminates penalties, distributes property to rightful heirs in a timely and efficient manner, allows for fairness, answers all questions, and, finally, provides peace of mind for the executor, who is usually a non-lawyer.

What Is Estate Settlement? Estate settlement, also known as probate or estate administration, is the process of gathering a decedent's assets and other property, paying debts and obligations, expenses, preparing taxes, and carrying out the wishes of the decedent for distribution of assets to the rightful heirs through a will.

What If There Isn't A Will? If there is no will or one cannot be found, then estate settlement gets complicated. The county Register of Wills chooses an "administrator", usually a family member or close friend who then works with a lawyer to make sure the necessary and stringent legal requirements are followed.

Why Is A Lawyer Needed? The legal requirements and tax filings are time sensitive and require a significant amount of accounting and paperwork, federally as well as for the county and state. There are fines imposed if documents are not filed on time; however, if tax documents, for instance, are filed in advance, there are discounts and, thereby, savings.

How Is An Estate Valued? Any assets that are owned solely by the decedent in his or her own name at the time of death constitute the value of the probate estate.

Can A Lawyer Save You Money? Yes, a lawyer can very possibly save an estate a good deal of money through permissible deductions, many that include estate expenses that a non-lawyer might not know. Additionally, Pennsylvania State Inheritance taxes, if filed by an advanced date, will include a 5% credit. Remember that an estate lawyer knows the legal requirements of estate settlement, but, most importantly, works as an advocate for the estate.

What Are The Biggest Problems In Settling An Estate? The biggest problem may be a decedent dying intestate or without a will. When no will exists, the Intestacy Laws of Pennsylvania take effect. The law is clear as to whom the heirs will be in the event there is no will. It is important that a lawyer who understands the law guides you through this process.

When there is a will, getting all required documents filed on time can be problematic. If required documents are not filed in a timely fashion, the executor may be sanctioned or fined by the court or even removed from the estate settlement process.

A second problem arises when someone contests the will. Remember that a will, once registered with the court, is open and can be read by the public. Only a lawyer can handle a case where the will is contested.

A third problem is determining the sole ownership of assets of the decedent at the time of death. In many cases, the decedent may have tried to decrease the value of his or her estate by establishing joint accounts or signing over real estate and other physically property to loved ones. In such cases, the tax ramifications can be great, and a seasoned estate lawyer can properly advise you on these matters.

An experience lawyer in estate law should guide the process with an expertise than the non-lawyer cannot. They can ease the process so that the executor has little to do but can feel secure that the estate is being executed or processed correctly.

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