Probate Administration

Probate Administration
The term probate describes the legal process of administering the deceased person’s estate. In Pennsylvania, the probate court is called Orphans’ Court and in New Jersey it is called Surrogate’s Court. Probate administration includes the following:

• The names and addresses of all heirs and beneficiaries must be located.
• Creditors must be notified and legal notices must be published in the local newspaper.
• The Executor of the will must inventory all real and personal property. The Executor is responsible for distributing assets and paying off any remaining debts.
• Real estate and other property may need to be sold in order to pay off the creditors.
• Estate or inheritance taxes must be taken into consideration.

If a decedent dies without leaving a will, the court will appoint someone called an administrator to handle these and various other tasks. A family member can request that the court appoint him or her as the administrator for the estate.

The Probate Process in Pennsylvania
Each county in Pennsylvania has a Register of Wills whose primary task is to review the will and the death certificate of the deceased. If there is no will, they must decide if Letters of Administration should be issued to the Administrator of the estate. The State of Pennsylvania gives broad powers to the Executor (also referred to as Personal Representative) to liquidate assets and pay off debts without seeking court approval for every transaction. The Executor is only required to file an inventory of assets and status reports about whether the estate administration has been completed.

The accounting of estate transactions to beneficiaries may be accomplished without involving the court or the can be formally filed with the Register of Wills. Assets that are held in joint ownership between spouses or with others will automatically pass to the survivor and are not subject to the probate process. Any assets held in a trust are governed by the terms of the trust, rather than the decedent’s will.

Probating a Will in Pennsylvania
To probate a will in the State of Pennsylvania or to obtain Letters of Administration if the person died without a will, the following must be filed with the county Register of Wills:

• A Petition For Grant Of Letters (Form RW-02) must be signed in the presence of the Register of Wills.
• The death certificate with an official seal.
• The original will and any codicils.
• An Estate Information Sheet (Form RW-01) must be completed.
• Payment for the filing fees.

The person who serves as the Executor must bring proof of identity before the Register of Wills can administer the oath of office and grant the petition.

The Probate Process in New Jersey
The probate process must be done in the Surrogate’s Court in the county where the decedent resided. The process is initiated by presenting the original will along with the death certificate to the court. If the will is deemed to be valid, the Surrogate will prepare the following:

• Application for Probate
• Authorization to Accept Service of Process
• Executor Qualification

The Executor will sign the Application for Probate requesting the Surrogate to file the will with the Superior Court. An Authorization to Accept Service of Process must be executed. By signing the Executor Qualification, the Executor agrees to administer the estate according to the New Jersey laws. Once the will has been entered into Probate, the Executor must execute a Notice of Probate within 60 days. This lets the next of kin know that the will has been probated and notifies them of the date and place of any probate hearing.

Dying Without a Will in Pennsylvania
A person who dies without having a will is known as dying intestate. When this happens, state laws dictate what will happen to their estate. In Pennsylvania, the laws of Intestate Succession protect both the surviving spouse and the children, if there are any. The laws also provide for the decedent’s relatives, including parents, siblings, uncles, aunts and in some cases their children and grandchildren. The laws of intestacy are broken down in the following manner:

Surviving Spouse
If the decedent was only survived by his or her spouse and at the time of death had no children or parents, the spouse inherits the entire estate. If the decedent was survived by a spouse and one or both parents, the spouse is entitled to receive the first $30,000 of the estate, plus 50 percent of the remaining estate.

Surviving Children
If the decedent was survived by a spouse and children they had together, the spouse receives the first $30,000 plus 50 percent of the estate. However, if the decedent had children that were not the children of the surviving spouse, the spouse is only entitled to receive 50 percent of the estate. This is because the law presumes that the spouse will care for their own children, but not necessarily those of the decedent from a prior union.

No Surviving Spouse
If the decedent was not survived by his or her spouse, the estate is divided as follows:

1. The children of the decedent come first.
2. If there are no children, the decedent’s parents split the estate equally. If there is only one parent surviving, he or she takes the entire estate.

3. If the decedent was not survived by children or parents, the estate is distributed to the siblings of the decedent.
4. If the decedent has no surviving siblings, then the estate is split between the maternal and paternal grandparents and their children.
5. If there are no grandparents still living, the estate is split among the decedent’s aunts, uncles and their children and grandchildren.
6. In the event the decedent has no surviving relatives, the estate goes to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Dying Without a Will in New Jersey
When no will exists, the decedent’s property and assets are distributed according to the New Jersey intestacy statute. The following is a brief summary of how the estate will be distributed in the State of New Jersey:

Surviving Spouse and Children
If the decedent had a spouse and children from the marriage, the spouse inherits the entire estate if there are no children from a prior union or stepchildren.

Surviving Spouse and Children from a Prior Union
If the decedent has a spouse and children from a prior union, the spouse inherits the first 25 percent of the estate. This must not be less than $50,000 or more than $200,000, plus half of any balance of the estate. The children will receive the other half of the balance in equal shares. Grandchildren are only entitled to receive the share of their deceased parent.

Surviving Spouse and No Children
If the decedent has a spouse and no children, but his or her parents are still living, the spouse will inherit the first 25 percent of the estate. This must not be more than $50,000 or more than $200,000, plus three-fourths of any balance of the estate. The parents take the balance equally.

Surviving Children and No Spouse
The children will inherit equally and the grandchildren will take the share of their deceased parent if applicable.

No Immediate Family
If there are no immediate family members of the deceased, the estate is split among aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, then to stepchildren or to the State of New Jersey.

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