The following provides a basic overview of the major steps involved in the administration of an estate. This outline is written from the perspective of how estates are administered in Pennsylvania. The details may vary in other states but these basic steps are required in most cases.
When a person dies with a will, the executor must file a petition with the register of wills or with the probate court, depending on the state of residence procedures, to probate the will. Once letters testamentary are obtained, the executor can then act for the estate.
If there is no will, then the administrator would file such a petition for letters of administration and would be granted letters of administration to act for the estate.
An employer identification number will have to be obtained for the estate. Some state laws require certain notices to be provided to beneficiaries of the estate and for certification of such notifications. Other steps are required such as advertisement of death in local and legal newspapers.
Letters testamentary granted to the executor, or letters of administration in the case where there is no will, allow that person to administer the estate by collecting all assets, transferring assets into the estate account, investing these assets in a prudent manner during the estate administration.
The executor must pay all funeral expenses, debts, administration costs, taxes of the estate. For a discussion of how to pay debts under Pennsylvania law please read PA Probate: What Debts Take Priority
Final income tax returns for the decedent for the year of that person’s death and the various tax returns of the estate have to be prepared and filed. Various tax elections may have to be made. Tax clearances must be obtained from the various taxing authorities.
Once all obligations are satisfied, debts are paid, the tax clearances are granted, the executor must either file a formal final accounting and have it approved by the court or effectuate a more informal family settlement agreement. In the latter case, a family settlement agreement can be signed and agreed to between the executor (or administrator) and all beneficiaries.
Once all tax clearances are obtained and the final accounting is approved or a family settlement agreement is finalized, the remaining assets are paid to the named beneficiaries in the will or to the trustee of a co-called “pourover trust” if the residual provision of the will so provides.
This is just an overview and not nearly an all inclusive list as to the steps involved in any estate administration. For example, non-probate assets also may require the attention of the executor. The rules can vary from state to state and there may be special procedures or additional steps depending on the estate or the state involved.
Remember, the “devil is always in the details,” as there are many technical steps and procedures that need to be taken in addition to the ones listed above. This article gives you an idea as to why most people retain an experienced estates lawyer to assist them. This is not a task that should be undertaken without an experienced estate attorney who regularly deals with these details, complexities and is familiar with the technical areas of estate and tax law.
“Steve Fromm is a superb lawyer and I highly recommend him! After a terrible experience with a previous lawyer concerning an estate administration, I entered his office feeling very deflated, confused and discouraged. However, I left his office feeling enthusiastic and eager to get down to business. My situation was very unique, I needed his expertise for an array of things and Steve was able to address all of my needs. With a limited time-frame and an extreme amount of obstacles to overcome he worked meticulously, diligently and accomplished extraordinary results. His professionalism is incomparable and I am forever grateful.”
Renice Cox , posted January 19, 2011