Probate & Estate Administration Lawyers in Media, Pennsylvania

Our experienced lawyers are familiar with the administration process in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and will bring the estate to close as efficiently and quickly as possible.

 We will prepare and file required tax returns and counsel as to opportunities to avoid current or future taxation through the treatment of assets of the estate. Often, complex issues arise as a result of tax or legal hurdles, and our firm is adept at negotiating a resolution that will benefit all interested parties.

Attorney Ken Russell
Ken Russell – Probate Attorney

What is Probate?

Probate is the process by which a deceased person’s estate is administered. Technically, probate refers to the administration of the estate of a person who dies testate, or with a will. The estate of a person who dies intestate, without a will, will have their estate undergo the “administration” process.

The process of probate and administration is substantially the same, with the primary issue being that a will identifies the beneficiaries of a person’s estate. A person without a will has their beneficiaries decided by state law, which can lead to unintended and undesirable consequences. In either case, the estate must be opened by the court, usually acting through the Register of Wills. The Register of Wills will appoint a personal representative (the executor of the will, or the administrator of an intestate estate). The process will typically take nine months to one year, and can take longer, depending on the complexity of the estate. 

Role of Personal Representative

The Register of Wills will appoint a personal representative (the executor of the will, or the administrator of an intestate estate). Typically, the powers and duties of the personal representative are spelled out in the Will and in state law.

Jack Sweeney – Probate Attorney

After appointment, the personal representative must make appropriate notification of all beneficiaries and advertise for potential creditors. The personal representative is charged with gathering the decedent’s assets, identifying and settling the decedent’s debts, paying taxes, and making distributions to the appropriate beneficiaries.

The personal representative has the sole authority to act for the estate, and has a fiduciary obligation to the estate’s beneficiaries to efficiently and properly manage the estate’s assets. To the extent a Court finds that the personal representative failed to properly manage the estate, he or she may be personally liable for damages even if there was no intentional misconduct. 

The representative has the power to transfer estate assets and sell them to pay liabilities and taxes. The personal representative may hire advisors to assist with the many complicated legal and tax issues that arise during the administration.

Closing The Estate

Once all assets are marshaled and debts and taxes are paid, the estate must be closed. There are two ways of “closing” an estate.

First, if all beneficiaries are in agreement as to the administration, the estate can be closed informally. In Pennsylvania, a family settlement agreement will usually be prepared, which will set out the remaining estate assets and schedule of distributions. The beneficiaries will release the personal representative and promise to return their distribution in the event of any future claims.

The other alternative is to file a petition for approval of the personal representative’s accounting in the Orphan’s Court. The personal representative will prepare and file an accounting, which is a summary of all transactions made for the estate. The beneficiaries will have the opportunity to object to anything in the accounting they feel is improper. The Court will resolve any disputes and close the estate (this is called the adjudication). While this process is more formal and expensive than a family settlement agreement, it is necessary for complex estates or estates where there is disagreement among the parties.

Orphan’s Court

Estate matters involve emotional issues, including, most importantly the division of assets. Our firm works diligently to avoid litigation, but in some cases litigation avoidance is not possible. In those cases, our firm is able to provide our clients high caliber, aggressive and experienced Orphan’s Court litigators. Whether a Will contest, a contested guardianship or challenging the conduct of the trust or estate’s fiduciaries, our firm will guide you through the unique challenges of Orphan’s Court litigation.

Although initially attempting to avoid litigation, our clients know that once litigation is commenced, our litigation efforts will be tireless and aggressive and we will take all actions necessary for them to achieve their desired litigation result. 

Attorney’s Fees and Support for Estate Executors

Estate matters involve emotional issues, including, most importantly the division of assets. Our firm works diligently to avoid litigation, but in some cases litigation avoidance is not possible. In those cases, our firm is able to provide our clients high caliber, aggressive and experienced Orphan’s Court litigators. Whether a Will contest, a contested guardianship or challenging the conduct of the trust or estate’s fiduciaries, our firm will guide you through the unique challenges of Orphan’s Court litigation.

Although initially attempting to avoid litigation, our clients know that once litigation is commenced, our litigation efforts will be tireless and aggressive and we will take all actions necessary for them to achieve their desired litigation result. 

Intestacy, or Dying without a Will

Intestacy occurs when a person dies without leaving behind a will. Russell Law handles matters of intestacy for clients. Click here for more Estate Planning information.

Taxes Associated with an Estate

There are a variety of tax matters and responsibilities that impact estates. The primary ones include:

The personal representative of an estate will have to file a final income tax return for the part of the year in which the decedent was alive. This applies to both federal and state income tax.

For income tax purposes, the state and federal government look at an estate as a separate person who has to pay tax on income received. To the extent that the estate receives income in the form of dividends and capital gains, it will have to file a fiduciary income tax return for each year in which it is open. The same rules apply to a trust. The trustees are required to file fiduciary income tax returns on income received by the trust.

Trust, Estate and Fiduciary Litigation

In Pennsylvania, the Orphan’s Court has jurisdiction over litigation arising in the area of probate, estates and fiduciaries. Orphan’s Court litigation can involve non-adversarial proceedings, such as a petition for approval of an accounting by an executor, administrator or trustee, or an unopposed petition to modify or terminate a trust. Orphan’s Court litigation also involves disputes, such as will contests or objections to the accounting or conduct of an executor, administrator or trustee. If the Court determines that a fiduciary acted improperly in administering an estate or a trust, the Court can remove the fiduciary and can surcharge him or her, meaning that the fiduciary becomes personally liable for damages to the estate.

Another type of litigation commonly seen in Orphan’s Court involves disputes over joint bank accounts and other “non-probate” assets that do not pass under the will but which can have tremendous value.

Will Contests
A will contest is a lawsuit in which a beneficiary or potential beneficiary of an estate seeks to invalidate a Last Will and Testament. There are traditionally two theories by which a will may be challenged:

Claiming that the testator (person making the will) was not competent to execute a will at the time it was made.

Claiming that the testator was improperly influenced to make a decision by some person in a trusting relationship to the testator.

Probate Downloadable Resources

To help you best prepare for estate planning in the Greater Philadelphia area we have included downloadable materials that focus on a handful of sub-categories:

Ken Russell discussing probate.

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Business Hours 

Hours:
Monday 9AM–5PM
Tuesday 9AM–5PM
Wednesday 9AM–5PM
Thursday 9AM–5PM
Friday 9AM–5PM
Saturday Closed
Sunday Closed
Phone: 215-914-2222

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