Wills and Estate

Wills and Estates Contents:


Estate Law

Notaro & Associates, P.C. is your source for advice on estate law. Our attorneys are able to handle issues that arise regarding estate law including Wills, Intestate Estates, Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, and Estate Administration. To speak with an attorney about your Estate Law needs call our office today at 412-281-1988.

Estate law can encompass many different areas. This includes formal arrangements regarding how a person’s assets and debts are to be handled after they die. This can be done by drafting a will or a trust, which can be either revocable or irrevocable.

Another area of estate law is estate administration, which begins after the death of a loved one. Estate administration may involve submitting a will for probate. During this phase, there is a period for the orderly distribution of a person’s assets, a period wherein taxes are paid and a period of time wherein a will contest may arise.

Our attorneys have a thorough understanding of the complexities of estate law. They work hard to ensure that our clients are able to protect their property as well as understand the process while providing compassion and understanding in what can be a difficult time.

 

 

 

Wills

A will is a document that directs how your estate is to be distributed upon your death. You may choose to include in your will provisions for guardianship of minor children and establishing a trust for your estate.

A person must be 18 years old or older and of sound mind in order to make a will. A will must be in writing and signed by that person. Although not required, we have two witnesses to every will and we have it notarized to make the administrative process easier.

Once a will is made, it can only be revoked by another will, codicil, or another writing (made and proved in the same manner as the will) or by being burnt, torn, canceled, obliterated, or destroyed by the testator.

We recommend that one use the following as guidelines only in considering whether to establish a will:

STATUS RECOMMENDATION
Single, no children No, although you may want to inquire as to the potential tax consequences on your estate without a will as your entire estate will pass to your parents, if no parents, then to siblings or their children, if no siblings/nieces/nephews, then to grandparents and so on*
Single, with minor children Yes, you may want to inquire as to whether a will with trust and guardianship provisions for the minor child(ren) are appropriate
Married, no children, one or both parents are alive Yes, you may want to inquire as to setting up a will to ensure that your spouse receives your entire estate to avoid a transfer of part of your estate to your parents
Married, with children Yes, you may want to inquire as to setting up a will to ensure that your spouse receives your entire estate to avoid a transfer of part of your estate to your children

*If you choose not to execute a will, Pennsylvania has a system of laws for an intestate estate (20 Pa. C.S. §2102, 2103) that will provide the framework for distribution.

Your original will should be kept in a safe place, accessible to a loved one, and not in something such as a safe deposit box.

 

 

 

Intestate Estates

We will help you decide whether it is appropriate for you to have a will after discussing in detail the particular facts of your estate. Not everyone needs a will or has a will when they pass away.

When a person dies in Pennsylvania, property that is not disposed of in a will is usually disposed of under the intestate statute (except for retirement plans, life insurance, payment on death accounts, property owned by joint tenants with rights of survivorship, and living trusts) . Depending on whether you are married, your estate under the intestate statute would pass as follows:

STATUS DISPOSITION
Married, no surviving children or parents Spouse receives the entire estate
Married, no surviving children but one or more surviving parents Spouse receives first $30,000.00 plus one-half of the balance of the estate
Married, surviving children of the decedent and spouse Spouse receives first $30,000.00 plus one-half of the balance of the estate
Married, surviving children of the decedent only Spouse receives one-half of the estate
Single, with children Children receive the entire estate
Single, no surviving children but one or more surviving parents Parent(s) receive the entire estate
Single, no surviving children or parents but one or more surviving siblings Siblings(s) receive the entire estate
Single, no surviving children or parents or siblings, but one or more surviving niece or nephew Nieces and nephews receive the entire estate
Single, no surviving children or parents or siblings, but one or more surviving grandparents Grandparent(s) receive the entire estate*(½ to paternal grandparents and ½ to maternal grandparents) or their descendants
Single, no surviving children or parents or siblings or surviving grandparents or grandparent’s descendants Grandparent(s)’s siblings receive the entire estate and their descendants

If a case does not fall into one of these criteria, then the estate passes to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

 

 

Definitions

Pursuant to 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 102, the following are some important formal legal definitions:

"Fiduciary." Includes personal representatives, guardians, and trustees, whether domiciliary or ancillary, individual or corporate, subject to the jurisdiction of the orphans' court division.

"Guardian." Means a fiduciary who has the care and management of the estate or person of a minor or an incapacitated person.

"Letters." Means letters testamentary or letters of administration of any description.

"Minor." Means an individual under the age of 18 years.

"Personal representative." Means an executor or administrator of any description.

"Trust." Means any trust, whether testamentary or inter vivos, subject to the jurisdiction of the orphans' court division.

"Will." Means a written will, codicil or other testamentary writing.

 

 

 

Powers Of Attorney

A Power of Attorney enables a person to make important financial and other decisions for you. A person may choose to execute this document so that important matters can be taken care of in case he or she is incapacitated in some way. However, the Power of Attorney can become effective once signed by the party and his or her designated agent.

You may choose to give your selected agent a variety of powers, including but not limited to the following: the power to make a gift on your behalf, borrow money, enter safe deposit boxes, pursue claims, engage in real estate, banking and other financial transactions.

 

 

 

Living Wills

Through a living will, a person may direct the type of health care he or she receives even after becoming  incapacitated. In addition, a person may choose to appoint a health care agent to make these decisions for him or her within the confines given by that person.

An individual of sound mind may make a living will if the individual is 18 years of age or older, has graduated from high school, has married, or is an emancipated minor. A living will is typically signed by that person and witnessed by two other individuals over the age of 18.

A living will is only in effect when a copy has been delivered to your physician and the physician determines that you are incompetent and have an end-stage medical condition or are permanently unconscious.

 

 

Estate Administration

In spite of the pain of losing a loved one, important steps need to be taken regarding that person’s estate. We recommend that you gather the following documents as a first step: an original will, a death certificate, life insurance policies, and that you hold onto copies of outstanding bills and expenses paid on behalf of your loved one after their death. These documents will assist you in administrating that person’s estate.

An executor or administrator of an estate is usually appointed by a will or may be appointed by the Court. The executor or administrator has important duties which may be completed with the assistance of an attorney. These duties include but are not limited to the following:

  • Arrange for the probate of the will (or the grant of letters of administration if there is no will) with the office of the Register of Wills.
  • Notify banks, employers, insurance companies, stock brokers, and others of the death, and begin identifying assets and liabilities of the decedent.
  • Advertise the grant of letters by the Register of Wills.
  • Prepare and file inventory of estate with Register of Wills.
  • Prepare and file Pennsylvania inheritance tax return, federal estate tax return (if needed), and any other death tax returns needed for property located in other states.
  • Prepare and file decedent's final lifetime income tax returns, federal and state (due April 15 of year following death).

 

 

Distribution of an Estate

The distribution of assets from the estate can begin at any time, although it is usually concluded after the death taxes have been settled. Depending on the circumstances, distributions can be carried out:

  • After an accounting has been filed in court and approved by the court;
  • After an accounting and schedule of distribution has been approved by all beneficiaries; or
  • By receipt and release from each beneficiary.
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