by: Colt A. McKelvey, Esquire
The death of a loved one can cause significant uncertainty in the lives of the ones left to pick up the pieces. One of the more uncertain aspects for families is the area of administrating the estate of the person who has since passed. Thankfully, men and women of history have thoughtfully planned for situations such as this. Below, I will briefly describe a few aspects of administrating an estate. It is important for anyone who is tasked with handling the estate of an individual that they contact an estate attorney. Navigating this process without an attorney is extremely difficult and can lead to consequences if not handled properly.
Early on in the process, an estate lawyer will be able to determine issues, such as whether an estate is testate or intestate. If an estate is testate, it means there is an estate where the decedent died having executed a Last Will and Testament naming an Executor and disposing of the decedent’s real and personal property. Simply put, was there a will? Additionally, an attorney will need to determine that the will was made by someone who is allowed to make a will and whether that will was properly created. In the alternative, an estate can be intestate. Intestate is an estate where the decedent did not execute a Last Will and Testament, or the Last Will and Testament executed by the decedent is not valid and cannot be admitted to probate by the Register of Wills. In simple terms, an estate without a will or a will that was not created in accordance with Pennsylvania law can be classified as an intestate estate.
Another issue in the administration of an estate is determining what assets are probate assets or non-probate assets. A probate asset is an asset that will pass to the beneficiaries identified by the Last Will and Testament or as determined by the laws of intestacy. Generally, probate assets are property titled only in the decedent’s individual name that does not have a beneficiary designation. Examples of this are checking and savings accounts, sole ownership of real property, automobiles, or personal property. Non-probate assets are classified as assets that will pass either to the beneficiaries named in a properly executed beneficiary designation or to a surviving joint owner. A non-probate asset will not pass to the beneficiaries named in the Last Will and Testament. A few examples include real property owned as tenants by the entireties or joint tenants with the right of survivorship, IRAs/401ks, life insurance or jointly-owned bank accounts. An attorney will be able to determine whether assets are probate or non-probate assets. Again, an estate attorney will be able to properly handle all the complexities of the estate administration process.
These are only two briefly described aspects of estate administration. The process can be a long, difficult, and at times, seemingly impossible task to handle. However, attorneys that are versed in the estate administration process will be able to guide you step by step. It is important, if you are given the task of handling the estate of a loved one, that you reach out to a law office so that you might be better prepared in this difficult time.
If you have any questions, you can reach out to me at my office via telephone or email. Thank you.