Opening an Estate in Schuylkill County

When someone you love has passed away, you’re confronted with many difficult decisions, and an estate process that can feel very complicated. If the person that you love passed away while living in Schuylkill County, here are the first three steps you’ll need to take to open an estate and probate their will.

1. Determine Whether Your Deceased Loved One Had a Will

The first question to answer is whether the person who died had a will or not. Although wills are very important, not everyone has one when they pass away. If they had a will, the process is usually easier and more straightforward. The will tells you who’s in charge of the estate (that is who the “executor” is), as well as who will inherit the possessions, money and property left behind in the will.

If your loved one did not have a will, however, you are left without this road map. Don’t be afraid: Pennsylvania law provides, by statute, who will inherit and who will be in charge of the estate. This statute is called the “Intestate Statute,” and gives detailed instructions on how such an estate will be processed. A good probate attorney can help walk you through figuring out who is in charge of the estate, and how to make sure that process goes smoothly.

2. Open an Estate in Pottsville

Once you’ve determined whether there’s a will, it’s time to open an estate in Pottsville. This is known as the “probate” process. Probating a will includes drafting something called a “Petition for Grant of Letters” and attaching the will. If there is no will, then other documents can demonstrate the proof that you are the proper person to open the estate and begin the probate process. In Schuylkill County, this petition is presented to the Schuylkill County Register of Wills. The Schuylkill County Register of Wills office is in the courthouse in Pottsville on the second floor.

3. Gather Assets and Liquidate the Estate

We’ve written in depth about this process elsewhere, but once an estate is opened through the probate process, you can begin gathering the assets, selling them as necessary to pay debts, and ultimately distributing the remainder of the estate to the beneficiaries. This process involves carefully ensuring that you are complying with the law. This includes paying taxes, paying creditors in the proper order, disputing claims filed against the estate as necessary, and occasionally seeking court orders for the transfer of real estate and other possessions.

The estate typically requires about nine months of work, though many executors are able to finish the process faster. The process ultimately culminates in filing a REV-1500 form, known as The Estate Inheritance Tax Return Form.

Conclusion

At Cornerstone Law Firm, our probate attorneys are able to help you in Schuylkill County. We will go with you to the Register of Wills in Pottsville and file documents with the Department of Revenue. We can assist­ throughout the rest of the process in providing advice, helping you to sell real estate, and properly valuing items belonging to the decedent. If someone you love has passed away in Schuylkill County and you need help processing their estate, call Cornerstone Law Firm for a free consultation today.

Avoiding Probate in Estate Planning

As we have discussed in other articles, probate is the process of an opening of an estate and transferring ownership of assets from a deceased individual to that person’s beneficiaries. Probate can be an expensive and time-consuming process, and naturally, many families are eager to find ways to avoid probate in advance.

In this article we are going to talk about some of the common ways that people avoid probate by planning ahead so that their loved ones do not have to incur the time and expense of probate. Please be aware that there are specific pros and cons to each of these approaches depending on a number of factors. It is important for you to speak to an experienced estate planning attorney about your options. This article is meant to help you, but it is not formal legal advice.

Revocable Living Trusts

One common mechanism to avoid probate is to create a revocable living trust rather than a will. While a will goes to probate, a trust can continue “living” even after you have passed away. The trust document controls who takes over responsibility for the assets of the trust, and who they benefit.

There are a few steps to this approach. First, you would place all of your assets, including your house, your cars and your bank accounts into the living trust. You will essentially live your life out of the living trust. Think of it as carrying around a basket that holds all your assets. A trust document lays out who will pick up the basket when you die. Your heirs, whom you designate to “pick up the basket,” then have the option of either administering the trust and living out of it themselves, or of “decanting the trust” and taking those assets for themselves.

The advantages to a trust include that you can avoid probate, including the costs and attorneys’ fees necessary to navigate the estate administration process. Furthermore, trusts give your loved ones access to your assets faster after your death. Finally, a trust can keep your estate private so that people cannot see it as a matter of public record when you pass away. For some people, the privacy is an important consideration.

But there are drawbacks to this approach, as well. For one thing, trusts won’t avoid inheritance taxes due to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania upon your death. Second, a trust does not protect you from Medicare forcing repayment for the medical care that they paid for at the end of your life. In other words, this is not the way to avoid losing what you owe to nursing homes nor is it a way to avoid any taxes.

Furthermore, setting up and administering a living trust day to day is more expensive than simply drafting a will. You have to be sure that you carefully keep up with all the formalities of the trust and put new assets into this trust; otherwise, your beneficiaries may have to go through probate anyway because you forgot to include an asset. There are more robust trust options, including an irrevocable living trust, which can also save you some of the taxes and other costs that you might typically associate with starting a trust in the first place. To learn more about these, you should speak with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Gifting Assets

A second way to avoid probate is to begin gifting your assets early. This includes putting your cars in other peoples’ names, putting your children on bank accounts, not merely as trustees or agents, but as co-owners. It even includes deeding your house to your heirs.

The advantages to this approach are that these assets do not need to go through probate because they belong to your heirs before your passing. Better yet, depending on how long you live after the gifting event, there may be no inheritance tax or Medicare liability.

But the obvious disadvantages to this should be apparent immediately. First, after gifting these assets, they legally belong to your children or other heirs. This means that, for example, if they get into a car accident and owe someone a lot of money, that someone can usually come collect against the assets that you’ve gifted over to them. This approach also secures your assets from Medicare or Medicaid, but only if done five years before any care or costs are incurred. Otherwise, the Department of Human Services will use the five year look back period to reclaim these assets. This would defeat the purpose of the gifting in the first place. Additionally, gifting your assets can affect your eligibility for credit or other financial planning tools.

Gifting a large amount of money and property to your heirs can also have significant tax implications for them. You can give away $14,000 a year as of 2022, without incurring any taxes. You can also use your lifetime gift taxing exemption to give some of these assets away. Nonetheless, if you are not careful and if you do not properly claim these, this will result in tax liability for your heirs. Remember also that if you gift a house to your children, they will need to pay the real estate tax every year.

One approach to this sort of gifting is known as the “half a loaf approach” in which you give your children a survivor interest in the house without giving them present possessory interest. This is more complicated than we can cover in this article here, but it is one approach that allows you to gift at least some of the value out of your estate before death to avoid some of the costs of probate.

However, it is important to remember that probate is not exactly an all or nothing affair. If you forget to gift anything out of your estate, your children will have to choose between abandoning that asset or probating the estate anyway. In such a case, this gifting may not have been helpful to your heirs.

Conclusion

There are certainly advantages to avoiding probate if you can do it. But sometimes, it is more trouble than it is worth. Whether to take one of the steps outlined above depends on the size of your estate, the nature of your family relationships and more. If you’re interested in learning more, speak with one of the experienced estate planning attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm about your options so that we can help guide you through the process.

Pennsylvania Death Certificate

Why You Can’t Photocopy Pennsylvania Death Certificates

Pennsylvania Death Certificate

An example of a Pennsylvania Death Certificate

When a loved one passes away, one of the first steps in the estate administration process is the issuance of death certificates. Death certificates are required for many things, including opening probate and obtaining a short certificate. At the top of the death certificate is a notice that you are not permitted to photocopy the death cert. Why is this?

Death certificates are one of a very small number of documents that, under Pennsylvania law, you are not legally allowed to photocopy. The reason for this is allegedly to prevent fraud. Of course, like many things, it also means more money for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. By restricting the photocopying of death certificates, more of them have to be purchased, which means more money for the state.

However, beyond the economic benefits to the state, the practical benefit of not photo-copying death certificates is to prevent fraud. Because it is sometimes difficult to tell if a scan or photocopy has been doctored, the state requires originals to be used.

Today, however, because so much work is done by email, many of the entities that will ask for death certs—such as banks, life insurances companies, creditors and others—will ask for them as attachments to emails. This means that by virtue of scanning and emailing them, some of the benefits of requiring original certificates are being bypassed in practice.

Technically, this is still illegal, and we recommend only using originals to be safe. When it comes to probating an estate, you may have many questions about how the process works and the best way to avoid costs and maximize the recovery for everyone involved in the estate. If that’s you, call Cornerstone Law Firm so that we may help you through the estate process, including probate, obtaining short certificates, and more.

What Do I Do with the Will When A Loved One Passes Away?

When you experience a death in the family, the details of wrapping up the loved one’s legal affairs can seem overwhelming. One of the first questions that many people ask after the death of a loved one is, “What do I do with the Will?”

“What do I do with the Will?”

The short answer to this question is that the original Will (not a copy) is vital to the administration of an estate. Once this original is located, it should be taken to an attorney for review, along with any information you have on your loved one’s finances and liabilities. The purpose of this visit to an estate administration lawyer is to determine whether probate is necessary.

In many cases, in order to administer an estate, the Will must be probated. This means that it needs to be filed with the Register of Wills under the auspices of the Orphan’s Court at the Court of Common Pleas in the County where the decedent was living at the time of death.

What is Probate?

Probate is the process of liquidating estate assets, paying estate debts and taxes, and ultimately ensuring that the beneficiaries and survivors incur no future liability on the money they receive from the estate.

But probate is not always necessary, and avoiding probate can save time and money. A good estate administration attorney can help you determine whether the Will should be probated or not. Accordingly, if someone in your family has passed away recently and you’re attempting to figure out what to do with their Will (or in the absence of a Will, what to do with their assets and liabilities) then contact the Cornerstone Law Firm. Our attorneys can help you to figure out what to do with the Will, whether to probate the estate, and how to maximize the value of the estate to its beneficiaries.

Contact us today for a free consultation on your estate so we can help you handle these details during your time of loss.

What is Probate?

When a loved one passes away, the details can be overwhelming. Those left behind are suddenly confronted with a myriad of strange vocabulary to learn and figure out what to do with. One common word that you’ll begin hearing is “Probate.” So, what is probate, and do you need an attorney to help you with it?

Probate is the process of filing the will of a deceased loved one with the court, gathering their assets, paying off their liabilities, filing taxes, and closing out their estate. Simply put, probate is the court process that oversees the administration of an estate.

probate

The Purpose of Probate

The purpose of probate is to ensure that all of a deceased loved one’s debts are paid, and to make sure that their assets can be passed to their loved ones (“beneficiaries”) without any legal liability passing to their beneficiaries.

The Requirements of Probate

Probate requires that debts are paid in a certain order pursuant to a Pennsylvania statute, and limits the types of claims that can be brought against the person who has passed away. Probate also requires filing of tax returns to pay the Inheritance Tax for those who receive an inheritance from the person who passed. Usually, the estate pays this tax to avoid beneficiaries being saddled with the bill, although this depends on the Will.

Navigating the Probate Process

The Probate process can be confusing and, because it can be expensive, it is not always necessary to go through. A good Estate Administration Attorney will help you to see if there is any way to avoid the probate process altogether, as well as the fees and costs associated with it. However, in many cases, probate is required and is unavoidable.

If you know someone who has recently passed and you are trying to figure out how to administer their estate, call the Cornerstone Law Firm for a free consultation. We’ll be happy to sit down with you and discuss your options and to figure out the best way to administer your estate.

What do I do if I’m an Executor? An overview of Estate Administration

When a loved one passes away what are the responsibilities that you have as the next of kin in regards to estate administration? In this post, I want to take the opportunity to give you an overview of the process, and to help you prepare for what you’ll expect in meeting with an Estate Administration attorney.

  1. Marshalling the Assets

The first step in Estate Administration is marshalling the assets of the Deceased. They may have investments, stocks, bonds, IRAs, life insurance policies, 401ks and other retirement accounts, as well as bank accounts, trust funds, real property, personal property and other items of value. The Executor—that is, the individual charged with administrating the estate—will have to pull together information about each of these assets in order to assist the attorneys to make intelligent decisions about how to handle these matters. As part of marshalling the assets, there need to be appraisals done on certain items. Particularly where a business fixture or piece of equipment is difficult to value, appraisers will need to be brought in to give an opinion of the fair market value of such an item. This is true even of items that will be claimed by members of the family. Perhaps a ring or other family heirloom will be passed down to a daughter as part of her share the estate. Nonetheless, there will usually need to be an appraisal done to determine what portion of her share of the estate will be diminished by her taking that item of value instead of money.

  1. Filing Tax Returns

They say there are two things you cannot avoid in life: death and taxes and this is particularly true at death when you have to pay more taxes. Despite the fact that an individual has had to pay income tax their whole life, they will usually have to pay an estate tax when they pass away. Even when the estate itself is not taxed, frequently the amount that is passed to the non-spouse will have to be taxed. This includes those items of value discussed earlier. Inheritance tax must be assessed, and an Inheritance Tax Return (REV-1500) must be filed within a tight time period with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue. It is important to be diligent about preparing to file the tax return. Filing a tax return within three months brings a discount on the overall tax that has to be paid. In large estates, this discount can be a substantial amount of money. Accordingly, it is important to move quickly to prepare and file this tax return.

  1. Distribution of Assets

After all the assets have been marshalled, valued and the taxes have been paid, it is time to distribute the assets from the estate. Distribution of the assets happens according to the Decedent’s Last Will and Testament, or, if there is no Will, according to laws governing intestate succession. This is the part you’re probably most familiar with, and of course, it’s the part where the Executor is rewarded for his hard work in administering the estate.

Conclusion: What to Do if You’ve been Named an Executor

When a loved one passes away, it is best not to delay decisions about the estate. Probating the Will, if necessary, and marshaling and distributing the assets must occur, and the sooner it occurs the more money that will be able to be passed to the heirs. If you have questions in regards to Estate Administration or if a loved one has recently passed away and you need help administrating their estate, call Cornerstone Law Firm and let us know how we can help you.