Probate is an area of the law that many people know very little about. Here are answers to some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Estate Probate Lawyers and what they can do for you.

Pennsylvania Estate Probate Lawyers help persons involved in probate or estate administration to perform their duties as required by law. These persons include:

  • executors
  • estate administrators
  • heirs
  • trustees, and
  • others involved in the probate process

A probate lawyer can help you through the probate procedure or perform all the duties for you. (People may also refer to Estate Probate Lawyers as Estate Administration Lawyers.)

A Decedent is a deceased person (someone who has died).
Probate is the legal process that a personal representative must complete before he or she can distribute certain of a decedent’s assets to heirs or beneficiaries.
A deceased person’s Estate consists of some or all of the assets owned by the decedent at the time of death. The decedent may also own other property, called “non-probate assets” that is not part of the estate.
Non-Probate Assets are assets that pass to heirs and beneficiaries outside of the decedent’s estate. They may include financial assets or real estate owned jointly with another person. They can also include, by way of example:

  • assets that are held in trust
  • life insurance policies
  • 401k accounts
  • IRAs
  • other tax-deferred retirement plans
A Personal Representative is another name for an executor or estate administrator. This is the person responsible for performing the tasks required to administer a decedent’s estate. The personal representative must perform these tasks in strict accordance with state probate law before he or she can distribute the estate property to the heirs.
A Fiduciary is a person who has a relationship of trust with another person or persons. A fiduciary must act in the best interests of these other person(s).

Personal representatives are examples of fiduciaries. As fiduciaries, they must act in the best interests of the heirs and of the estate. A personal representative may be personally liable for violations of this duty. Thee personal representative’s  liability may extend to the:

  • estate
  • heirs
  • beneficiaries
  • and others

(The personal representative will not be liable for legal decisions made in reliance upon a probate lawyer’s advice.)

No. Executors or administrators very often hire a lawyer other than the lawyer who wrote the decedent’s Will to handle or assist with an estate probate. Even if the decedent named the lawyer who wrote the Will as the lawyer for the estate, state law allows the personal representative to retain a different probate lawyer.
Yes. But keep in mind that the personal representative must strictly follow state probate law in fulfilling certain duties. Though you may complete these legal requirements on your own, you need to be certain to perform your duties in compliance with the law and the decedent’s wishes. Your failure to do so may lead to your personal liability from heirs, estate creditors, and others.

For these reasons, you may consider hiring an experienced Pennsylvania estate probate lawyer to help you. The attorney can guide you through the procedure and handle some or all your duties for you.

Probate lawyers do charge a fee for their services. But this expense is usually paid from the estate’s assets rather than out of your own pocket.
Even if a decedent left a Will and named you as the executor, you are not required to accept the position.  You also are not required to accept the appointment as an administrator of an estate for a decedent who died without a Will.

In many cases, a Will may name a successor executor. The Register of Wills will appoint another personal representative if:

  • the Will does not name a successor and
  • you do not wish to fill the position or
  • you are unable to fill the position

The Register of Wills will usually appoint a personal representative of your choosing. This will sometimes depend upon your relationship to the decedent.

Under certain circumstances, you should not probate a Will. An experienced Pennsylvania estate probate lawyer can provide important advice in this regard.
The probate usually takes place in the county of the decedent’s primary residence at the time of death. In some cases, the primary residence will be a nursing home.
Pennsylvania law may require the payment of an inheritance tax on some or all of a decedent’s assets. These taxes are generally paid by the estate itself.  However, in some cases these taxes are paid by the heirs from their inherited share.  Inheritance taxes are  calculated based on the heir’s relationship to the Deceased.

Here are the current Pennsylvania inheritance tax rates:

  • No inheritance tax for surviving spouses or qualified charities
  • 4.5% for decedent’s parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, and other lineal descendants
  • 12% for decedent’s siblings
  • 15% for other beneficiaries and heirs
Under federal law, only estates with a taxable value in excess of approximately five million dollars must pay federal estate taxes.  The exact amount varies from year to year.
While every estate is different, the estate may also need to pay certain other types of taxes. (The estate will also have to file the corresponding tax returns.) These taxes may include individual federal, state, and local taxes for the deceased person’s last year of life. In some cases, the personal representative will also need to file a fiduciary tax return on behalf of the estate itself.

Contact our Pennsylvania Estate Probate Lawyers