Estate Administration Meeting Preparation Checklist

Probate and Estate Administration Conference Preparation Checklist

This page is designed to help our clients gather appropriate information in order to prepare for a conference with one of the attorneys in the firm about probate proceedings and the administration of an estate.

Introduction

We would like to express our sincere condolences to you. The loss of a family member or friend is never easy. We have prepared this Web Page to assist you in preparing to meet with us about probate proceedings and the administration of the estate. Hereafter, for ease of reading, we will refer to you as “executor.” The same discussions apply if you will be an executor, executrix, administrator or administratrix.

Your duties as an executor will be many and varied. It is important that an executor obtains proper legal advice because he or she can incur personal liability for certain errors in the administration of the estate. We will do our best to assist and advise you so that you can properly fulfill your responsibilities with a minimum of inconvenience. During the course of the estate administration, we will advise you of your obligations and the deadlines you will have to meet and generally about the legal aspects of the estate administration. Normally, we also perform for you many of the tasks involved, particularly in gathering information, preparing tax returns and complying with legal requirements.

Our advice to you will necessarily be based upon the information that we are able to obtain from you. Please remember that our advice can be no better than the information provided to us. Therefore, you should do your best to promptly and accurately provide us with any requested information or documents. There is an important reason for each piece of information and each document that we request. We are not merely being nosy or prying into private family matters. At any time if you have any question whatsoever about why we have asked a particular question or why we have made a particular request, please do not hesitate to ask us for an explanation. In a broader sense, if you have any questions about any aspect of the estate, please feel free to inquire at any time.

The Initial Tasks

Is Probate Necessary?

One of the first tasks that must be performed promptly in administering an estate is determining if probate is necessary or appropriate. Not every estate requires a probate proceeding. An explanation of the basis for that determination is beyond the scope of this Web Page and we will review the need for a probate proceeding for this particular estate with you individually. Two other early tasks are (1) locating the most recent original will (or confirming that no will appears to exist), and (2) if probate is appropriate, appointing an executor. We will review this with you and then help you take all necessary actions. Most of the comments on this Web Page are based on the assumption that probate proceedings are appropriate and will be instituted.

Probate Proceedings at the Courthouse

If you plan to go to the courthouse to institute probate proceedings at the time of our initial meeting, you will need to bring the following items with you to that meeting:

  • Original of latest will
  • All original codicils to that will
  • Death Certificate
  • Decedent’s Social Security number (should be on Death Certificate)
  • Valid ID for executor – Driver’s License
  • Blank check for Probate Fees [See Table of Probate Fees on this Web Site]

We will supply and complete the necessary papers or on-line forms to be filed with the Register of Wills. In order to complete the papers or on-line forms to be filed with the Register of Wills, we will need the following information:

  • Other names or alias used by decedent
  • Rough estimate of value of decedent’s real estate in Pennsylvania
  • Rough estimate of value of all decedent’s other property

Please note that for this purpose, we only need the values of property that the decedent owned individually. Property that the decedent owned jointly with his or her surviving surviving spouse, property that the decedent owned jointly with others with right of survivorship, items with POD ("Pay on Death") designation, items with other beneficiary designation (such as life insurance, retirement plans, etc) are not included for this purpose (even though some or all of those items may be subject to tax).

It is possible that after we examine the will, we will determine that other information may be required.

Initial Actions After You Are Appointed as Executor

Once probate proceedings have been instituted and you have been appointed as executor, a period of intense activity begins. Legal notices must be placed in the proper newspapers; particular forms of written notices must be mailed to each beneficiary; a notice certification must be filed with the Register of Wills; a safe deposit box inventory may be required; assets may have to be safeguarded; adequate insurance coverage must be confirmed; all the decedent’s assets must be ascertained, located and valued or appraised; and a determination must be made whether and when to sell any assets. If Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax will be due, a significant discount can often be gained by pre-paying the tax within three months of the date of death. No extension can be obtained for this prepayment. Therefore, it is important to take steps to have both (1) the information necessary to accurately estimate the potential tax and (2) the cash available to pay the tax on time.

Document Collection

It would be helpful to us in assisting you fulfill your obligations if you could locate certain documents and provide them to us as soon as possible. Whatever is easily accessible should be brought to the initial meeting. Items that are not immediately available can be supplied to us at your earliest convenience. The documents include the following:

  1. The decedent’s original will (or a copy of the will if the original has already been probated).
  2. Two original death certificates (you should receive them from the funeral director).
  3. Copies of any documents that you received from the Register of Wills if the will has already been probated.
  4. Copies of any living trusts that had been established by the decedent during his or her lifetime.
  5. Copies of all life insurance policies on the decedent’s life and all policies that the decedent owned insuring another person’s life.
  6. A list of banks where the decedent had any accounts, certificates of deposit or safe deposit boxes and copies of any recent bank statements that might be available. If the decedent had an in-trust-for account or a joint account or joint box with anyone else, these should also be included on the list. Account numbers should be provided to us if available.
  7. The most recent monthly statements available from all stockbrokers and mutual funds where the decedent had any securities or funds and copies of any stock certificates or bonds that the decedent owned that may not be reflected on the brokers’ statements.
  8. Copies of documents relating to any custodial bank or brokerage accounts that the decedent may have been holding for a minor or another person, for example under the Uniform Gifts or Uniform Transfers to Minors Acts.
  9. Copies of the deeds to all real estate that the decedent owned (either individually or jointly with another) and copies of real estate tax bills for any real estate that were not paid as of the decedent’s death.
  10. Copies of any documents relating to any retirement plan, pension plan, profit sharing plan, annuity plan, 401k plan, IRA or similar plan or arrangement.
  11. Copies of any other documents that might disclose the existence of any asset or property owned by the decedent (either individually or jointly) or that might disclose the value of any such assets or property. (Examples might be insurance appraisals, list of valuables, personal records of securities bought and sold, etc.)
  12. Copies of the funeral bill and any bills for funeral-related expenses such as flowers, funeral luncheon, cemetery charges, headstone, engraving, soloist, organist or payment to clergy.
  13. Copies of all credit card statements for all credit card accounts of the decedent (individual or joint) for the month of death and for the following month.
  14. Copies of all invoices for bills that had been submitted to the decedent before death but that were not paid before death and all bills for services rendered or purchases made before death that were not submitted until after death. This would include medical and hospital bills, utility bills for the decedent’s home and all other unpaid bills of any nature.
  15. Copies of documents related to any other debts the decedent owed to others (alone or with another person) such as mortgages, loans payable, car leases, business accounts payable and other similar debts or obligations.
  16. Copies of documents relating to any receivables - debts owed to the decedent by anyone else, including you.
  17. Copies of the decedent’s federal and state income tax returns for the current year and the prior three years.
  18. Copies of any federal gift tax returns that the decedent ever filed, no matter how long ago and copies of any other documents that reflect any gifts that the decedent may have given away especially during the last year (the last 365 days) of the decedent’s life.
  19. Copies of any partnership agreements or buy-sell agreements in which the decedent was a party to the agreement.
  20. A list containing the names, addresses and telephone numbers (to the extent available to you) of the following persons or entities:
    1. The decedent’s surviving spouse, children, parents (if living) and the children (the decedent’s grandchildren) of any child of the decedent who is no longer living.
    2. All beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will.
    3. All those who you believe have claims against the decedent whether or not you believe the claims are valid.
  21. Copies of any other papers or documents that you feel may be important for us to review.

We will endeavor to keep you informed during the course of the estate administration and ask that you also keep us informed. We look forward to working with you.

Note: During the course of the administration of the estate, from time to time, you many have questions about legal terms. Although you may always call and ask us, you may wish to refer to our article at this Web Site that explains many terms commonly used during the administration of estates.

Copyright 2013-2014   Marc H. Jaffe