What to Expect During Probate in PA

In an earlier post here on the blog, we discussed the steps you should take to begin probating an estate in Pennsylvania. Today we’re picking up where we left off to let you know what you can expect once the probate process is underway.

It’s true that probate can be a time-consuming and expensive process, and it’s important to approach the responsibility in an organized manner. Once you’ve worked through all of the preparatory steps and paid the filing fee, it’s time to get down to the business of probate.

Don’t forget to stay organized, and remember that you can consult an attorney at any time for help if you get stuck. Just because you have not worked with an attorney from the beginning does not mean that you can’t call for a rescue if you run into trouble with creditors, family members, or anything else about the probate process.

Here’s what will happen next now that probate is open. Continue reading “What to Expect During Probate in PA”

A Step-by-Step Guide to Opening Probate in PA

Most people are overwhelmed by the idea of probating an estate in Pennsylvania, if they even understand the process at all. For good reason, no two estates are alike and not all will even require the formal probate process. For those that do, probate can become time-consuming and expensive, depending on the total value of the estate and other factors related to debt and assets. So it’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you’re facing the probate process.

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Avoid the Pitfalls that can Derail Your Estate Plan

Because there are so many ways that your wealth and assets can be passed on to your surviving family members and other heirs, it is easy to ruin even carefully thought-out estate plans. Your last will and testament may not be the final word on how assets are distributed to others, although many people mistakenly believe this is the case. Beneficiary designations on financial products, for instance, can override your will, and many common estate planning pitfalls may cause heartache and infighting among family members. Protect yourself by getting to know the major “land mines” that can potentially blow up your estate plan. Continue reading “Avoid the Pitfalls that can Derail Your Estate Plan”

Estate Planning: What You Need to Know

Many people don’t want to think about their end-of-life affairs, but if they don’t plan carefully, they may leave their families out in the cold—or with a dilemma on how to handle their estate. Hiring the right estate planning attorney can help you decide how to transfer your assets while minimizing complications and simplifying or eliminating the payment of death taxes for your loved ones and surviving family members.  A well designed estate plan benefits everyone, not just “the wealthy.” Meeting with an attorney and establishing an estate plan makes the process easier, especially if you anticipate health issues or you have a lot of valuable possessions and assets.

To successfully map out your estate plan, you should find an experienced estate planning attorney who can educate you on all the options, while also helping you avoid legal pitfalls. We’ll briefly outline some different estate planning options below so you can familiarize yourself with avenues you may want to consider. Continue reading “Estate Planning: What You Need to Know”

Incorrect Beneficiary Designations Will Frustrate Your Estate Plan

Nightmare #1: You’re happily remarried and have established a fine life with your new spouse, then die unexpectedly and your life insurance policy pays out—to your ex-wife.

Nightmare #2: Your grandchild develops a debilitating illness and now has to rely on disability payments and Medicaid to supply his needs.  Upon your death, one of your life insurance policies is paid to him—and he loses all government assistance.

Nightmare #3: Most of your assets are in a sizeable IRA, which you are counting on to support your spouse should you pass away.  Upon your death, the IRA is paid out to your estate and is not only divided up among all the residuary beneficiaries in your will, but must also be paid out—and taxed—within five years of your death instead of providing for your spouse for the rest of her life.

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Help for Potential Guardians of Minor Children

For parents, a key component of estate planning is often selecting potential guardians for minor children should something tragic happen to one or both parents. These considerations can be double-sided emotionally and difficult to face. On the one hand, who would ever take care of your children just like you would? Facing such a decision also brings to light many fears and concerns. On the other hand, making the decision can be freeing in a way, because you know your children will be cared for if something happens.

Our firm understands the struggle that parents might face when dealing with such a decision, and we also understand the concerns that a potential guardian faces if the actual appointed time comes to pass. Many people agree to be named as legal guardians without ever really thinking the situation will occur where they will have to take charge of the children. That doesn’t mean they don’t love the kids or want this responsibility, but when the time comes, a guardian can be suddenly overwhelmed with the reality of the responsibility. Continue reading “Help for Potential Guardians of Minor Children”

Don’t Forget the Tax Man

If you are in a fiduciary relationship as an executor of an estate or a trustee of a trust, then you have to think about the wishes and needs of others. A fiduciary must make decisions that are in keeping with the law, the wishes of the deceased and the needs of the beneficiary. But you have to be careful not to forget other obligations, including taxes.

Many estates don’t pass the threshold for the federal estate tax, so you might think taxes aren’t a common concern for those in such positions. Just because you don’t have to worry about paying estate taxes doesn’t mean you don’t have to file any paperwork, though, and almost any estate will have to concern itself with at least one more income tax return.

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Seek Assistance Contesting Questionable Wills

Last week, we talked about what you might do if a loved one dies without a will and how various factors could impact your actions. What if your loved one did leave a will, but you don’t think that will is valid? In such cases, you might have to legally contest the will in probate.

While there are many reasons someone might contest a will, some legal arguments for will invalidation are going to stand above others. Perhaps one of the easiest ways to argue that a will is not valid is to produce a valid will that was signed after the will that was originally presented. This means that the will you produce was created by the deceased person when they were of sound mind and that they signed it in the presence of witnesses in keeping with state laws.

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What do You do if Your Loved One Died Without a Will?

If you believe you are a legal heir to someone’s estate, but that person has died without estate planning documents such as a will, you might not know what steps to take to claim your inheritance. The requirements for receiving assets or money that are left to you in such an estate depend on the laws of the state, whether there are other potential heirs and whether any assets are linked to beneficiary designations.

When someone dies without leaving a will or other estate documents, then the person is considered to have died intestate. Basically, that’s just a term for “without a will,” and intestacy estates are probated under the general laws of the state in question. Intestacy laws usually ensure that primary heirs, such as surviving spouses or children of the deceased, receive an inheritance under the estate. Depending on the situation, other family members such as step-children, grandchildren and siblings might also inherit something from an intestate process — especially if no other closer heirs are found.

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What is a Fiduciary Relationship?

A fiduciary relationship exists when one person in a relationship has a legal obligation associated with the management of another person’s assets or money. An accountant, for example, has a fiduciary responsibility to his or her clients. The law expects that an accountant will not purposely make poor decisions regarding a client’s assets and will work with due diligence and professional skill to protect or grow those assets as desired by the client.

If you are involved in a person’s estate, then you might be involved in a fiduciary relationship. If you have been asked to be the executor of a person’s will, then you have a fiduciary responsibility to the estate. While genuinely innocent mistakes do happen, the law expects you to make an honest attempt to use the resources at your disposal to handle the estate. That means following the estate plan and will to distribute assets as the decedent desired.

Continue reading “What is a Fiduciary Relationship?”

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