Why Administering an Estate in Pennsylvania is Not a DIY Exercise

Posted June 18, 2024

  • Why Administering an Estate in Pennsylvania is Not a DIY Exercise

Administering an estate is a complex process that involves a variety of legal, financial, and administrative tasks. In Pennsylvania, the intricacies of estate administration are such that attempting to navigate this process without professional assistance can lead to costly mistakes, legal complications, and prolonged delays. Here are several reasons why administering an estate in Pennsylvania is not a do-it-yourself exercise.

Complex Probate Laws

Pennsylvania’s probate laws are detailed and can be difficult to understand for those without legal experience. The probate process involves validating the deceased’s will, inventorying the estate, appraising assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to beneficiaries. Each of these steps requires meticulous adherence to state laws and deadlines, especially as some deadlines incentivize an estate to save money. Missing a deadline or improperly filing paperwork can result in significant delays, legal complications, and possible financial penalties.

Navigating Intestate Succession

If the deceased did not leave a will, the estate is considered intestate. Pennsylvania’s intestate succession laws dictate how the estate is divided among surviving relatives. Understanding these laws is crucial to ensure that the estate is distributed correctly. This process is often more complicated than probate with a valid will, as it involves identifying all potential heirs and determining their share of the estate, which can be challenging without legal expertise.

Tax Implications

Administering an estate involves various tax considerations, including but not limited to potential federal estate taxes, Pennsylvania inheritance taxes, and possibly personal income taxes. Each of these has specific filing requirements and deadlines. Missteps in tax filings can lead to penalties and interest, reducing the overall value of the estate. Estate administrators must be knowledgeable about tax laws and should consider consulting with a tax professional to ensure compliance.

Handling Estate Debts and Creditors

One of the administrator’s duties is to notify creditors of the estate and settle any outstanding debts. Pennsylvania law requires specific procedures for creditor notification and debt settlement. Failure to follow these procedures can result in personal liability for the estate administrator. Additionally, distinguishing between valid and invalid claims requires careful review, often necessitating legal advice.

Distribution of Assets

The distribution of assets is another critical step in estate administration. This process can become contentious, especially if beneficiaries disagree on the distribution. An experienced estate attorney can mediate disputes, ensuring that the distribution is carried out according to the will or state law. Without professional guidance, administrators risk making decisions that could lead to legal challenges from dissatisfied beneficiaries.

Legal and Financial Responsibilities

The role of an estate administrator comes with significant legal and financial responsibilities. Administrators and Executors are fiduciaries, meaning they are legally obligated to act in the best interest of the estate and its beneficiaries. This includes managing the estate’s assets prudently and transparently. Any breach of this duty can lead to legal consequences, including removal from the position of Executor or Administrator, and possibly a surcharge action. Professional guidance helps ensure that administrators fulfill their fiduciary duties properly.

Emotional Burden

Administering an estate is emotionally taxing, particularly for those grieving the loss of a loved one. The stress of managing legal and financial matters can be overwhelming during such a difficult time. Hiring a professional allows the family to focus on healing and closure, while ensuring the estate is handled efficiently and correctly.

While it might seem tempting to save money by administering an estate on your own, the potential for mistakes, legal complications, and emotional strain makes it a risky endeavor. In Pennsylvania, the probate process is fraught with complexities that require legal and financial expertise. Hiring a professional estate attorney not only ensures compliance with state laws but also provides peace of mind during a challenging time. If you find yourself tasked with administering an estate, consider seeking professional assistance to navigate the process smoothly and effectively. In the meantime, please call me with any questions.

About the Author:

Bill Hutcheson works with clients to ensure that their wishes are carried out after their passing. His experience includes drafting wills, powers of attorney, and living wills. Bill is keen on preparing a comprehensive estate plan that is custom-tailored for each client’s own unique situation, which he achieves through various non-probate planning tools. He often draws upon his experience and knowledge as an investment professional prior to his legal career to understand the non-probate instruments his clients readily have at their disposal in preparing a comprehensive estate plan. In addition to Bill’s guidance in estate planning, he also has significant experience in administering estates upon the decedent’s passing. Bill steers Executors and Administrators through the labyrinth of state and local statutes related to the administration process. Regularly, Bill ensures the estate’s assets are properly distributed, debts are paid, and taxes are filed. Bill and his team focus heavily on the timeliness of proper filings required by an estate’s Executors, Administrators, and Trustees, as well as ensuring they meet all of their fiduciary duties and standards. Lastly, when disputes arise amongst an estate’s stakeholders, Bill defends and/or pursues the rights of his respective clients’ positions related to the estate in question.

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