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.

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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.

3 Reasons You Need a Will

Everyone needs a will. Every year, individuals die without wills, and their families deal with a great deal of unnecessary headache, stress and sorrow because of the unpreparedness of the family member who passed away. But despite the fact that everyone needs a will, many people don’t know why. So here are 3 reasons you should have a will—yes, you!

  1. Wills dictate who takes your possessions.

This is the obvious reason, of course. A will is the document that decides who takes your possessions and your property at the time of your death. Even if your family knows who you were closest to, the law will not necessarily pass your possession to that person. A will is a necessary and easy way to dictate who will take your possessions upon your passing, and, perhaps more importantly and in some situations, who will not take your possessions when you pass.

  1. Wills determine who takes custody of your minor children upon your passing.

This is one of the more frightening and concerning potential outcomes that a will helps to prevent. When you pass away, a court will be in charge in determining who will take custody of your minor children. A will provides clear and strong evidence of who it is you intended to have your children, and this will be upheld by the courts absent extraordinary circumstances. If you do not do this, your children could potentially be put in midst of a protracted legal custody battle. This is true even if everyone in the family is clear on who should have custody of the children or who you wish to have custody of the children. A court will still have the final say because no will was left to establish who you wished to have custody of your children.

If the other parent of your children is in the picture—married to you, or otherwise sharing custody with you—then this is not as much of a concern; the court will allow custody to the other parent. However, if both of you are to pass away suddenly, this would still be a potential problem that a will can solve. Simply put, when it comes to something as important as custody of your children there is no reason to take any chances.

  1. Wills determine who will be the Executor or Executrix of your Estate.

These may sound like fancy legal terms to many readers, but selecting who will be the Executor (or Executrix if a female) of your Estate is a very important decision. First, it selecting your Executor it is important to consider who will carry out your wishes at your death. Second, in selecting your Executor, you are selecting someone that will make very important decisions if there are ambiguities in your will or situations that you could not have predicted. Your Executor may also be responsible for setting up Trusts for your children if they are still minors and dealing with other details. Third and finally, someone has to take the responsibility to deal with your Estate, and that individual will in all likelihood be paid from your Estate for their time and trouble. Making sure that the person who is going to receive some payment from your Estate is someone you trust, respect and appreciate is important.

Conclusion: Wills are For Everyone

Wills are important for every individual to have. You need a will to handle the affairs of your Estate after your death. But in some cases, a Trust, such as a Revocable Living Trust is a better option. Speaking with an estate planning attorney is important, and it shouldn’t be put off. Call the Cornerstone Law Firm today and speak with one of our attorneys about getting started on your will.