1. Do I need legal help?
By scheduling a consultation with an attorney, your legal questions with regard to settling the estate can be answered. The attorney would be able to advise you as to whether or not an estate needs to be raised in view of the particular facts and circumstances of each individual estate.
You will want to consult with an attorney who concentrates their practice in estates as they will be experienced in dealing with the variety of legal issues that could be involved in settling an estate.
2. What would determine whether an estate needs to be raised?
This would be determined by what the decedent (deceased person) owned, how those assets are titled and the indebtedness of the estate, all of which would also dictate whether or not the estate will be relatively simple or involved.
3. What does probate involve?
Probate is a legal process whereby when a person dies leaving a Will, the executor (legal representative as dictated by the decedent in Will) presents the Will to the Register of Wills for probate to prove its validity. The Register of Wills then appoints the executor and Letters Testamentary will be issued by the Register of Wills which authorizes a person(s) to act as the personal representative(s) of the estate. The executor has the responsibility of notifying the beneficiaries and creditors of the death of the decedent. The executor also secures and manages the assets of the estate, satisfies all claims against estate, pays estate taxes and distributes the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.
4. What if a person dies without leaving a Will?
If the decedent did not have a Will (intestate) or if the Will fails to name an executor, the register of Wills will appoint the appropriate person or entity to act as Administrator of the estate, at which time Letters of Administration are issued. The Administrator has the responsibility of notifying the beneficiaries and creditors of the death of the decedent, securing and managing the assets of the state, satisfying all claims against estate, pays taxes and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries in accordance with the laws in intestate succession which are determined by state law.
5. How long does it take to administer an estate?
Administration of an estate can be a lengthy process which commonly can take a year or more to complete depending on the complexity of the estate. Each step of the process requires legal documentation and validation, along with detailed accounting which may take a considerable amount of time.
6. What documentation will my attorney need with regard to the estate?
You will need to collect and identify a variety of documents which generally will include:
Death Certificates (Your funeral director can furnish you with certified copies of the death certificate. Purchase a minimum of 12, as most companies will request a certified copy.)
Beneficiary Information (name, address, telephone number, social security number and date of birth)
Deeds (to include jointly held property and property in trust)
Bankbooks, Certificate of Deposits, Savings Bonds and Account Statements
Stock Certificates and Investment Account Statements
Pension, IRA and 401 (k) account information
Former employers, union or professional organizations with which the decedent may have had an association (for insurance benefits)
Life Insurance Policies and Benefits (some loans, mortgages, and credit card accounts are covered by credit life insurance)
Credit Card and Loan Accounts information
Individual income tax returns for previous year(s)