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Posts tagged "probate"

Spousal Elective Share

It is possible for a spouse intentionally left out of the other spouse's will to still receive a share of the estate in the event of death. Pennsylvania law provides for an "elective share" pursuant to 20 Pa. C.S. 2203(a). This law provides that if a person is still married at the time of their death with no divorce pending, the surviving spouse can elect to receive 1/3 of that person's estate. There are items that are excluded from the estate in instances where an elective share will be applied. 2203(b) states the following exceptions: (1) any conveyance made with the express consent or joinder of the surviving spouse; (2) the proceeds of insurance, including accidental death benefits, on the life of the decedent; (3) interests under any broad-based nondiscriminatory pension, profit sharing, stock bonus, deferred compensation, disability, death benefit or other such plan established by an employer for benefit of its employees and their beneficiaries; (4) property passing by the decedent's exercise or non-exercise of any power of appointment given by someone other than the decedent.

Starting Probate

After a family member's death, the first step should be to determine if they had a last will and testament. If so, you will want to locate the original will and make sure it has been properly signed and witnessed. The named executor will need to go to the Register of Wills with the original will, photo identification, and some method of payment to open the estate. If the named executor does not want to act they can sign a renunciation which would allow someone else to take on the role. The Register of Wills will give the executor a short certificate of letters testamentary. This document authorizes the executor to handle the decedent's estate. If a loved one has passed away without a will, the Pennsylvania laws on intestacy will govern how their estate is handled. The closest kin can apply to the Register of Wills to be designated as the administrator of the estate. They will also be granted a short certificate as proof of their authority to handle the estate.

Inheritance Taxes

Pennsylvania does apply a tax on assets passed through probate or intestacy. The amount of tax depends on the value of the estate as well as the relationship of the beneficiaries to the decedent. There is no tax imposed for assets passing to a surviving spouse or to a child under 21 years old. There is a 4.5% tax for assets passing to children over 21, parents or grandparents. There is a 12% tax for assets passing to siblings. There is a 15% tax for all other transfers including to aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins or persons of no relation. There are some institutions exempt from the inheritance tax including certain government entities and charitable organizations.

Inventory of Probate Assets

An inventory must be filed with the court in administering an estate. The inventory should identify all probate assets of the decedent at the time of death. This may require some investigation by the executor. A good starting point is to monitor the decedent's mail for evidence of statements for accounts. In an increasingly electronic society, however, access to digital accounts may be more productive as more and more parties elect for email correspondence over hard copies in the mail.

Probate Assets

Not every asset owned by a party at the time of death will be subject to the probate process or pass under the direction of the will. Probate assets are those for which there is no pre-existing designation as to who should get the asset. Examples of typical assets that will be subject to probate include individually owned bank accounts, cars, personal property, business interest, real property held as tenants in common, cash, and life insurance with no beneficiary. These types of assets should be distinguished from any account with a beneficiary designation as those accounts will pass to the beneficiary. Also, joint accounts will usually go to the other party whose name is on the account.

Role of Executor

The executor of your will is the person designated to be responsible for the administration of your estate. They are required to act in a fiduciary capacity and carry out the wishes as stated in the will. It is a good idea to talk to your executor about your desires regarding your assets and debts as stated in the will. Your executor or other trustworthy party should know where the original will is kept as well. The executor will need to take the will to the Register of Wills to open the estate and be formally recognized as the party authorized to handle the estate. From there, the executor will need to identify all the assets and debts the decedent had at the time of death. An inventory will need to be filed with the court.

Formal Probate Administration

Formal administration involves handling the entire process through the courts. After the short certificate, the executor or administrator needs to notify all possible beneficiaries. They will also need to notify all possible debtors by publishing notice in the local law reporter as well as a local newspaper of general circulation. The executor or administrator should also notify social security, employer(s), banks, insurance companies, retirement plans, etc. regarding the death of the decedent.

Start of Probate Process without a Will

If a loved one has passed away without a will, the laws of intestacy will govern how their estate is handled. The closest kin can apply to the Register of Wills to be designated as the administrator of the estate. They will also be granted a short certificate has proof of their authority to handle the estate.

Elective Share

It is possible for a spouse intentionally left out of the other spouse's will to still receive a share of the estate in the event of death. Pennsylvania law provides for an "elective share" pursuant to 20 Pa. C.S. 2203(a). This law provides that if a person is still married at the time of their death with no divorce pending, the surviving spouse can elect to receive 1/3 of that person's estate. There are items that are excluded from the estate instances where an elective share will be applied. 2203(b) states the following exceptions: (1) any conveyance made with the express consent or joinder of the surviving spouse; (2) the proceeds of insurance, including accidental death benefits, on the life of the decedent; (3) interests under any broad-based nondiscriminatory pension, profit sharing, stock bonus, deferred compensation, disability, death benefit or other such plan established by an employer for benefit of its employees and their beneficiaries; (4) property passing by the decedent's exercise or nonexercise of any power of appointment given by someone other than the decedent. 

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