Losing a loved one is never easy. When someone passes away, their estate must be settled with the appropriate probate court. The complexities and conflicts of probate can potentially burden an already grieving family, which is why it is often wise to consider hiring experienced legal representation to assist with the process.
Our Pittsburgh probate lawyer and CPA at the Mt. Jackson Group can provide the compassionate assistance and guidance you need in this difficult moment. Probate can sometimes be contentious, and you may face unexpected obstacles or challenges to a will’s authenticity. We are extensively familiar with estate settlement processes and can help you navigate the probate process as efficiently and painlessly as possible.
Ideally, the decedent will write and validate a will that will serve as a roadmap for the estate settlement process. The last will and testament should name a personal representative that will be responsible for overseeing probate.
Probate will begin when the personal representative steps forward and petitions the appropriate court. If no valid will exists, a surviving adult child or spouse can petition the court. In these instances, the court will typically allow the petitioning family member to serve as the personal representative.
In a typical probate case, the personal representative will be responsible for completing the following steps:
- Petitioning to open a probate case
- Submitting the will (if one exists) to the court
- Notifying all known beneficiaries, heirs, and creditors
- Inventorying and appraising estate taxes
- Fielding claims from creditors and settling any outstanding obligations
- Filing the decedent’s final tax return
- Distributing the decedent’s assets in accordance with their will or state's intestacy laws
There are many reasons to avoid probate as much as possible. Estate settlement is notoriously protracted and expensive, and the contents of the decedent’s will are a matter of public record. Interested parties can also contest a will and trigger costly litigation, prolonging an already lengthy process.
Debts and taxes – including any applicable federal estate taxes – must be paid before assets can be distributed. If assets need to be liquidated to settle outstanding obligations, beneficiaries may not receive planned inheritances. Consequently, it is generally wise to shelter assets from probate. Our Pittsburgh estate planning firm can assist with proactive tax planning and other financial services and minimize the negative impacts of estate settlement.
Many types of assets avoid probate, including:
- Assets placed in a living trust
- Jointly owned property (the surviving party will generally inherit the assets automatically)
- Assets with designated beneficiaries, including life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and payable-on-death accounts
- Up to $10,000 in wages
- Up to $10,000 in bank account funds
Simplified Probate for Small Estates
Not every estate will need to go through the full probate process. In Pennsylvania, an expedited and simplified process is available for qualifying “small estates.” An estate will likely qualify as a “small estate” if it contains less than $50,000 in total assets. This excludes real estate, funds exempted from probate, and funeral and burial expenses. Our Pittsburgh probate attorney can evaluate whether your loved one’s estate is eligible for this process and can assist you with making the appropriate request with the court.
ProtectiveOur approach is to maximize your assets and provide long-term financial well-being for the next generation of your family.
SupportiveNo matter how small you think your assets are, we will provide maximization strategies and support you every step of the way.
ProactiveWe encourage clients to start the estate planning process as soon as possible in order to take full advantage of the long term benefits.
Many individuals instinctively appoint a loved one or close friend as their personal representatives. While this is an understandable choice, you should consider whether your selected representative has the bandwidth and knowledge of how to effectively move through the estate settlement process. Many personal representatives are new to probate and are overwhelmed by the position’s responsibilities.
Appointing a qualified legal representative to handle estate administration can provide relief to your loved ones, and our Pittsburgh probate lawyer and CPA are prepared to serve as your personal representative. We can also assist appointed personal representatives with completing their responsibilities and navigating conflicts, including will contests.