Philadelphia Estate Administration Attorney

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Whether you are planning your estate and considering whom to appoint as your executor or have yourself taken on the role of executor for the estate of a deceased relative or friend, now is the time to clarify what estate administration entails. At Cooper Schall & Levy, our knowledgeable estate planning attorneys have been successfully guiding and advising clients on the subject for decades. Contact us to discuss the details of your particular situation. 

Although estate administration can be overwhelming, we know how to break the process down into smaller, doable steps and will be there to help you through. Also, we are more than happy to help with organizational and bureaucratic issues, such as filing documents and dealing with Social Security matters.

Estate Administration Covers Multiple Tasks

Unless you have experience with estate administration, it may seem to be a straightforward process, involving simply following the directions stated in the deceased’s will. In reality, however, an executor has multiple responsibilities and, as a fiduciary, is held legally accountable for misconduct, so it is important to take the role seriously.

Depending on individual circumstances, the tasks of estate administration listed below may go smoothly or become complicated and time-consuming:

  • Filing a petition with the probate court
  • Petitioning to appoint the named executor or administrator for the estate
  • Notifying beneficiaries under the will, or statutory heirs if there is no will 
  • Taking inventory of estate assets and if needed having them appraised by professionals
  • Paying all rightful debts of the estate
  • Selling any assets necessary to pay such debts
  • Filing the decedent’s final income taxes
  • Paying estate taxes if any are due
  • Distributing remaining assets to named beneficiaries or statutory heirs

If you want to complete these tasks efficiently and correctly, with as little stress as possible, it is wise to work with a seasoned estate planning attorney. 

There are two things to remember before taking on the job of an executor: 

  • You will be reimbursed for your work, up to 5 percent of the estate’s value if the estate is relatively small and as low as .5 percent if the estate is of very high net worth. 
  • Being an executor is voluntary and you may turn down the appointment if you wish, whether due to the fact that you do not have the time to do this project properly, because you are distracted by grief, or for some other reason.

The Probate Process 

Probate, the process through which a will is validated, can be complex, especially if the estate is of high net worth or owns many properties, some of which are out of state or out of the country. 

However, not all assets have to go through probate. As part of our estate planning services, our probate attorneys take proactive steps to avoid probate in cases where it is likely to be an expensive and drawn-out process. These steps may include:

  • Having real property jointly titled with the right of survivorship
  • Setting up life insurance and/or retirement policies with named beneficiaries
  • Creating revocable living trusts to transfer funds directly to beneficiaries
  • Setting up transfer-on-death (TOD) bank accounts 

Our extensive experience with probate matters will make you glad you have one of our attorneys at your side.

Complications to Estate Administration

There are several factors that can make estate administration more difficult. Our skilled lawyers are ready to help you handle any of them, including:

Absence of a Will

If the deceased has died without a will (intestate), an executor will not have been designated, so the court will appoint a close relative or friend to be administrator (personal representative). Since there is no will the decedent has not named beneficiaries, the court will distribute the estate’s assets are stipulated in Pennsylvania’s laws of intestate succession. 

This means that a protocol will be followed to pass the estate’s assets to living relatives in the following order: spouse, children, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and their children and grandchildren. If there is no will, no one who is not in the deceased’s bloodline will inherit.

Contested Will

While only a tiny proportion of wills are contested, if you have to deal with a contested will that is litigated, it is crucial to have a strong contested will attorney in your corner. No matter whether a family member feels they are not receiving an appropriate amount or are being unfairly disinherited, the only legal grounds for contesting the validity of a will are claims that:

  • The will was not executed properly
  • The person creating the will (the testator) lacked mental (testamentary) capacity
  • Another person (e.g. the child living closest to them or a paid caretaker) exercised undue influence on the testator or coerced them into making the will 
  • The will was forged or is otherwise fraudulent

Fortunately, if you do run into a will contest, the attorneys at Cooper Schall & Levy have the right combination of determination and diplomacy to negotiate a reasonable settlement. If despite our best efforts the contesting party will not budge, we are fully prepared to take the matter to court. 

Other Possible Obstacles to Estate Administration

Although most estates are settled without too much fuss, some, particularly those in which the stakes are high, may be taxing to manage, or even toxic. If you run into one of these, having a savvy estate administration attorney is invaluable. Our legal team will help you deal not only with intestate estate administration or contested wills, but with:

  • Beneficiaries who are impatient or angry that they have not received their inheritance
  • Beneficiaries who accuse you of inefficiency, incompetence, or misconduct
  • Mistakes you may have made that must be corrected
  • Debts or lawsuits that threaten to use up large portions of the estate 

The best way to make certain that you can complete the job of estate administration properly is to work with an attorney who understands both the legal and logistical components of the process thoroughly. 

The Takeaway

Estate Administration is a serious business for the testator, their beneficiaries, and the executor. Whether you are designating a person to be your executor or taking on the role yourself, contact the experienced attorneys at Cooper Schall & Levy now to make sure that this operation will go smoothly and successfully.