Estate administration is a long, detailed process that takes a year or more to complete. Under extraordinary circumstances, some estates may take several years to administer. Formal probate estate administration often can be avoided with careful estate planning, where a family settlement or small estate settlement can alternatively be pursued. For the benefit of loved ones and for peace of mind, it is always highly advisable to have a sound estate plan in effect that minimizes the surviving family’s burden. Whenever a spouse, parent, or loved one dies, next of kin survivors should quickly contact an estates attorney in order to select an appropriate estate administration strategy that will not only minimize the family’s burden, but will also maximize the estate’s beneficiary distribution potential.
Governed by statute and case law, Pennsylvania estate administration is the act of opening, managing, and closing a decedent’s estate. When a Pennsylvanian (or non-resident PA property owner) departs for the great beyond, that decedent’s Earthly property must be properly managed and distributed according to Pennsylvania law. Generally speaking, the estate administration process consists of opening the estate, marshaling assets, paying creditors, paying inheritance tax, distributing remaining assets to beneficiaries, and closing the estate. Estate administration practice is extremely fact specific and there is never a “one size fits all” solution. Estate administration strategy is largely dependent on the decedent’s marital, family, and financial circumstances, as well as the decedent’s estate plan. With or without an estate plan in effect, it is always highly advisable that a decedent’s family members and loved ones seek an estates attorney’s counsel shortly after death or immediately after the funeral in order chart an optimal estate administration course.
To begin, a major question must be answered: to open an estate, or not to open an estate, that is the question. If there is a relatively small amount of probate assets, and if the decedent did not own real estate, a small estate settlement or family settlement likely can be pursued upon petitioning the Court. In these situations, inheritance tax still must be paid, and a petition and account of the decedent’s estate may be presented to the Court. Additionally, when one spouse dies, title to marital property automatically vests in the surviving spouse, which avoids the necessity of probate entirely for marital assets. Non-probate alternative estate settlement procedures can be utilized for both intestate and testate estates, and if such an alternative estate settlement route is desired, the guidance of an estates attorney is crucial.