In PA, probate is the process of proving a Will at your local Register of Wills Office after death. The named Executor in the Will or proponent of the Will must present an original, executed copy of the Will to the local Register of Wills, along with a petition for the Grant of Letters Testamentary, an original death certificate, a completed Estate Information Sheet, and a check made payable to the Register of Wills for the estimated probate fees. If a person dies without a Will, then that person is said to have died intestate. Probate is still necessary. So maybe we should be calling Probate by the term "Estate Administration". Pennsylvania laws determine who has priority to being appointed an Administrator of an intestate person’s estate.
What are the steps involved in Estate Administration and what are the timetables?
Before Estate Administration, you should review the Will and any separate writings for funeral and burial instructions. You should locate cemetery deed. You should estimate number of death certificates needed. And, you should safeguard decedent's residence and place of business.
As for Estate Administration, as I mentioned earlier, you need to prepare a local probate petition and statewide Estate Information Sheet.
You should also obtain death certificates and estimate size of probate estate for purposes of probate fee. Probate estate is an estate comprising of assets passing through the decedent's Will. Joint assets don't pass through the Decedent's Will and aren't subject to the probate process. However, the assets inherited from a joint asset are subject to inheritance taxes unless it is a surviving spouse or charity.
Most Wills today that are properly drafted are self-proving. You still need to prove it to the local Register of Wills. However, you do not have to locate the witnesses to the Will and haul them into the Register of Wills to help prove the Will to them. If the Will is not self-proved, you need to locate subscribing witnesses and arrange their participation in probate; or prepare an Oath or Affidavit of Subscribing Witness for any witness who will not appear. You may also have to arrange bond, if Will does not waive entry of security.
Shortly after you are appointed Executor or Administrator of the Estate via a Grant of Letters issued by the Register of Wills, you need make arrangements to have mail forwarded to you if you aren't the surviving spouse. These Grant of Letters gives you the legal authority to administer the decedent's estate. You need to advertise your Letters in a local newspaper and legal newspaper. You need to arrange adequate security and insurance for residence and tangible personal property, including car, with appropriate endorsements for policies. You need to obtain a Federal I.D. number. You need to file Notice of Fiduciary Relationship. Then, you should open an estate bank account, enter safe deposit box and arrange inventory of box contents by representative of Commonwealth of PA or bank officer. Other initial duties will be to search for and collect papers and records, such as bank and brokerage statements, Federal and state income tax returns and many others.
So you have gotten through the initial stages, but there is still so much more to do. Within three months from date of death, you can pre-pay Pennsylvania inheritance tax to obtain a 5% discount. Within three months of Grant of Letters, send official Notice of Beneficial Interest in the Estate to all beneficiaries, and file Certification of Notice with the local Register of Wills.
Within six months of date of death, there is a deadline for filing of spouse's election to take elective share. Within nine months from date of death, file Federal estate tax return, if necessary; file Pennsylvania inheritance tax return and pay balance of tax; file an Inventory with the local Register of Wills. Within one year of date of death, pay outright legacies to avoid interest.
Your final steps as Executor or Administrator, is to file a Status Report with the local Register of Wills; review appraisement of Pennsylvania inheritance tax return; file final fiduciary income tax returns; and prepare your Accounting of your administration to the heirs and creditors. You may have to file a formal Accounting with the Court. Issue final distributions pursuant to Releases received by heirs and creditors if done informally, or by adjudication of the Court if done formally.
There are a lot of duties, deadlines and decisions to make, and I didn't mention all of them. If you need help in this area, you can always contact us for help. We would love to help you.