“Tied up in probate.”
Even if you’ve never dealt with the court system, you’ve probably heard someone use that phrase, either in real life or in a movie or on TV.
But what does that phrase mean? To answer that, let’s look at what probate itself is all about.
“Prove the will”
The word “probate” comes from the Latin for “prove the will,” and is the process of ensuring that assets get handed down according to the wishes of the deceased and the will itself is a legally viable document.
In some cases, probate may not even be necessary, depending on whether you own any probate assets at the time of your death. Probate assets are ones that are titled in your name alone. If you own only a joint bank account, or an IRA with a beneficiary, they are considered non-probate assets, and do not have to go through probate.
Please note that how an asset is titled is crucial where your will is concerned. If you indicate in your will that you want to leave your entire estate to your three children in equal shares, but all of your assets are titled in a joint bank account with one child, upon your death the asset will pass to that child. As the saying goes, “the will is not worth the paper it is written on”.
The probate system is there to ensure that the estate is distributed according to your desires and that the executor of the will is doing what they need to do to complete the administration of your estate: collecting assets, paying debts and taxes, and passing on property to heirs.
This is a process that can take anywhere from a few months to more than a year – hence the phrase “tied up in probate.” It all depends on the complexity of the case, and how much planning you did when creating your will.
Without a plan for your will, you risk making errors, a larger tax liability and court involvement. The probate process will run much more smoothly with an estate attorney involved.
What does estate administration entail? If you have been named the executor or administrator of an estate, you will need to:
- Notify institutions like the Social Security Administration, credit card companies, banks and other creditors to let them know the decedent has died.
- Set up a bank account to pay bills and to collect any incoming funds
- Prepare an inventory of the decedent’s assets.
- Maintain property before sale, including the decedent’s house and everything in it and anything that might be stored in safe deposit boxes. It is the executor/administrator’s job to keep everything in good condition before it’s sold or distributed to the heirs.
- Pay taxes and debts, including filing the decedent’s final income tax return, PA inheritance tax return, and federal estate tax return where applicable.
- Distribute the estate’s assets to the beneficiaries.
Have you been named the executor or administrator of an estate? Or are you thinking about what will happen to your loved ones after you’re gone? It’s time to talk with an estate attorney.
The attorneys at Gummer Elder Law have spent years helping the people of Bucks County create solid estate plans and navigate the world of probate and estate administration. Contact us today to find out how we can help your family through this often difficult process.