Your Complete Guide to Estate Planning – CHAPTER 7
As we’ve established throughout earlier chapters in our Complete Guide to Estate Planning, the prospect of probating a friend or family member’s estate can be scary.
There are many steps involved in opening probate, determining whether you’ll be required to undertake the formal process (versus Pennsylvania’s simplified probate process for estates with assets totaling less than $50,000), and then moving through the appropriate version of the process itself.
Very complex estates may remain in probate for years. And while the good news is that these situations tend to be few and far between, taking a DIY approach to probating an estate of any size is not often a good idea. You can save yourself frustration and time by consulting with an experienced probate and estates attorney.
Our previous blog post outlining the phases of probate in Pennsylvania—and what you can expect as you move through this legal process—is a must-read if you’ve recently been placed in a fiduciary role as a personal representative for a friend or family member’s estate.
But how do you make even a lengthy probate process as painless as possible? Today’s post offers a few important steps you can take to survive probate with minimal frustration.
Quick Review: What is the Probate Process and Why is it Necessary?
In short, the primary purpose of probate is to gather up assets of the estate and distribute them to the beneficiaries in accordance with the will, or in the case of no will, the intestate laws of Pennsylvania.
Probate also serves to adjudicate and settle claims against an estate under court supervision, whether there is a will or not.
Can Probate Be Skipped?
Depending on how your friend or family member set up their estate plan, you may discover that none of their assets will be required to go through probate at all. While this may save time in overall estate administration, you’ll need to gather and thoroughly check all documentation to be sure this is the case.
Additionally, paperwork—including your friend or family member’s last will—needs to be filed with the court in the county where they lived.
Let us help you!
Step 1: Hire an Experienced Probate and Estates Attorney to Guide You
While you might be shaking your head and thinking, “of course they’d say that,” we really cannot overstate the fact that working with an experienced probate and estates attorney removes many of the headaches that come with the probate process. Whether formal probate is required or not, having a knowledgeable resource in place to help you every step of the way will ensure that you don’t make common—but potentially costly—probate mistakes.
Step 2: Follow the Probate Process in Order
As we thoroughly documented in our earlier Pennsylvania probate guide, there are roughly seven stages to probating an estate. Since every estate is different, there isn’t a standard timeline, but these stages will need to be completed in order.
You can expect the entire probate process to take about a year, though some estates can be discharged in just a few months. For more on each individual stage of probate, please read our article, “What to Expect During Probate in PA,” or get in touch with us here at May, Herr & Grosh for a free initial phone consultation. Here’s the general roadmap you’ll need to follow.
Probate Process Order:
- Receive Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration from the probate court/local Orphans’ Court
- Give notice to beneficiaries and others that probate is beginning
- Gather and inventory estate assets
- Sell estate property, as needed, and pay debts
- Determine the estate’s tax liability and plan payments to tax authorities
- Distribute assets to beneficiaries and prepare the final accounting
- Discharge the estate
Step 3: Keep Organized
Many of the common mistakes that fiduciaries make in the probate process involve a lack of organization, which stems from procrastination or simple ignorance of the intricacies of the process. Even in our paperless modern world, probate involves an impressive volume of forms and paperwork, as well as time-sensitive tax preparation and bill-paying.
Step 4: Check in With the Court Regularly
One key point about probate that many personal representatives don’t realize is how often reporting to the court is necessary. For instance, in estate administration scenarios dealing with ambiguous wills, family disputes, and more, an accounting may need to be filed with the court when you’re working through the asset distribution phase.
Additionally, if probate is taking a long time, you will need to understand when to file periodic Status Reports with the court.
Need Help With Any Aspect of Probating an Estate in Pennsylvania?
Here at May, Herr & Grosh, we offer our unique Probate Rescue service to both fellow attorneys who need a little assistance with particularly challenging estate cases, as well as to executors and other Pennsylvania estate administrators here in Lancaster County and beyond who have hit a wall in attempting to handle probate on their own. No matter where you’ve gotten to in the probate process, we’re ready to jump in and help with timely documentation filing, will contests, and even probate litigation. Get in touch with us today to learn how we can help.