FAQ: Estate Administration & Probate


Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is Estate Administration?
After a loved one has died, the burden and uncertainty can be overwhelming to families. Marks Elder Law acts on your behalf and/or helps you to administer the estate (wind up the affairs of your loved one). Working with the Executor(s) or other representatives of the estate, we:
  • Gather the assets, see what is there, and sell what needs to be sold;
  • Pay the bills, debts, taxes and expenses that must be paid;
  • If your financial circumstances have changed;
  • Distribute what is left over to those who are supposed to receive it and account for these distributions; and the title to your house and other assets.
  • Take care of any probate proceedings - the process of transferring assets owned by the decedent in his or her name only, to the heirs or beneficiaries, including necessary court proceedings and paperwork.

Q. What is an Estate?
An estate consists of all the property, assets and liabilities of a deceased. Handling an estate refers to winding up all of the business of the deceased, and dealing with all of the assets, proceeds, debts and expenses. Narrowly, an estate may refer ONLY to the specifically defined legal probate estate.
Q. What is a Will?
A Will is a legal document that says how your affairs will be handled after your death. Your Will says who will inherit some or all of your property from you, who will be in charge of winding up your affairs, and who will serve as Guardians or Trustees for your minor children or others.
What is an Executor/Administrator?
An Executor is the person named in a Will and appointed by the Register of Wills to be in charge of the probate estate. In an estate in which there is no Will, or when the individuals named in a Will as the Executors cannot serve, the individual appointed is called an Administrator
What is Probate?
Probate is a legal process of supervision of an estate by the Register of Wills and the Judges of the probate court. It requires paperwork and filings and may require court proceedings and litigation.
What is the purpose of Probate?
The underlying reason is for the probate court and judge to make sure that the proper debts have been paid and that what is left will go to the people who are supposed to get it; and to resolve any arguments or disputes that arise
What are Probate Assets?
Probate assets are assets owned at the time of death by the deceased in his or her name only; and for which he or she did not add anyone elses name onto the asset or account along with theirs.
What are Non-Probate Assets?
Non-probate assets are assets on which the person who died added someone elses name onto the asset or account along with theirs. Non-probate assets pass outside the Will and probate Estate, because of these other written arrangements. Some examples of non-probate assets are joint bank accounts; real estate held by husband and wife or other joint owners; and life insurance policies, IRAs or annuities that name a living person as a pay-on-death beneficiary.
Who inherits if there is no Will?
When there is no Will specifying the beneficiaries, the law of Pennsylvania determines the people who will inherit, called heirs or heirs at law. The heirs are specified family members beginning with those most closely related to the decedent - spouse and children, parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, then other relatives more distantly related. Only if there are no qualifying heirs will the estate go to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
What Taxes are Owed After Someone has Passed Away? ?
There are ordinarily three kinds of taxes that can apply to value of the estate left behind: Pennsylvania inheritance tax: on net estates left to anyone other than a spouse or charity; Federal estate tax: on larger estates; and Income tax on assets and deferred income (such as IRAs and Annuities).
Who is Responsible for Paying Bills and Taxes after Someone has Died?
Generally, the debts that were owed by the person at the time of and that arise after death (such as medical bills, credit card balances and funeral expenses) are paid from the probate estate assets. These debts may sometimes be paid by family members from other non-probate sources, such as joint bank accounts or life insurance proceeds. If so, the estate may owe reimbursement to the person who paid. In Pennsylvania, estate tax is generally owed by the person who receives the inheritance (but may sometimes be paid directly from the estate). Federal estate tax is generally owed by the estate.