Probate & Trust Administration

The loss of a family member is one of the most difficult things we can encounter.


When a loved one passes away, their estate may need to be settled in a court process called probate. Probate is how an “Estate” is distributed according to a Will, or law, to heirs of the deceased.

During probate, a personal representative handles administration of the estate. The personal representative is responsible for communicating with heirs, paying outstanding debts and taxes, and then distributing what is left to the beneficiaries.

While this sounds straightforward, it rarely goes as planned. Administering a loved one’s estate often involves disputes between beneficiaries. The probate process is not pleasant as is it known to have expensive delays, conflict, and bureaucracy.

In Pennsylvania, probate usually takes a year at minimum. This is because creditors have one year from the date of advertising the decedent’s death to file claims against the estate. 

The length of the probate also depends on the complexity of the estate, the assets included, and number of beneficiaries. More complex estates will take longer, and can get tied up in probate court for many years.

You may be wondering, does every estate go through probate upon someone’s death? The short answer is no. Probate laws vary by state, but in Pennsylvania only certain property in the name of the deceased requires probate. Assets of the deceased such as jointly held property, property in a Trust, retirement accounts and life insurance proceeds all pass outside of the Probate process.

As a way to avoid probate, many people opt for a Trust-based estate plan. A trust can be used to:

If it’s too late for planning that would avoid probate, we can still help guide you through this difficult time. At Pecori & Pecori we walk alongside you through the probate court process including:

Trust Administration

When a loved one dies and they have a trust, you will need to undertake the trust administration process. Upon their death, a trustee (who was selected when the trust was created) is named. 

The duty of the trustee is to manage the property, funds, and other assets in the trust. The trustee is also responsible for distributing the assets to the beneficiaries of the trust. 

The trust should specify how distribution is made to the beneficiaries. Most trusts specify a simple outright distribution. However, some specify a staggered or discretionary distribution. In either case, an accounting should be prepared for the beneficiaries showing exactly how the distribution was calculated.

If you are asked to be a trustee, you should fully understand and know of your responsibilities. If the trust assets are improperly accounted for, you can be held personally liable.

Unfortunately, more often than not, families fight over who gets what and whether all laws have been followed. These fights can result in litigation, expensive lawyer fees, and devastating financial consequences for heirs and the trustee.

With the help of our office, we can resolve these issues efficiently and amicably. We can guide you through the process if you decide to serve, or recommend the appropriate person to serve on your behalf. 

Proper trust administration can reduce the risk of liability claims by beneficiaries for things that happened during the administration process. If you have been named trustee of a loved one’s trust, contact us so we can help reduce stress and avoid costly mistakes.

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Probate FAQs

  1. Secure the original Will and hire an attorney. In most instances, only the original Will may be “probated.” The executor must hire a probate attorney. A meeting is set to review the Will and identify all heirs.
  2. Open the Estate. The executor is sworn in at the Department of Court Records. They literally must raise their right hand and swear an oath to uphold the state’s laws. Clients are often nervous about this step, but they usually agree with me later that the drive to the courthouse is the most stressful part. There is a fee to open the estate, which can vary. In Allegheny County, it is around $200. Once the executor is appointed, they now have the authority and obligation to manage the estate.
  3. Notice and Advertising. The attorney is required to notify all beneficiaries of their potential interest in the estate. An ad is placed in two publications that the estate has been opened, to inform any potential creditors.
  4. Inventory and protect assets. The executor locates all of the estate’s assets. Some are pretty obvious such as real estate, personal possessions, and cars. Others like bank and financial records, deeds, and life insurance policies are often difficult to find. Is there a safe or safety deposit box? Did you check under the mattress? Once located, the executor must secure the items and make a report to the attorney. Often the executor will find non-probate items such as life insurance, items the deceased owned jointly, and beneficiary designated items such as 401K or IRA accounts. While these items will not pass through probate and the executor does not have ultimate responsibility for them, they should see that the items are passed to the appropriate beneficiary.
  5. Open an estate bank account. The executor may pick the bank of their choice. With a tax identification number and a short certificate, the bank will open an account where the executor may consolidate the cash assets of the estate.
  6. Debts and expenses. The executor and attorney determine what debts are valid and if and when they should be paid. When the estate is solvent, bills such as funeral expenses and medical bills not paid by insurance are paid first. Other important bills are those associated with the carrying costs of real estate. Utilities, insurance and maintenance must be kept up to date to keep the property secure. Bills such as credit cards are usually paid last.
  7. Inheritance taxes and inventory. Within 9 months of the date of death in Pennsylvania, the inheritance tax return is due. Start by listing gross assets, then deduct debts and expenses to determine the net figure subject to taxes. In Pennsylvania, the inheritance tax rates are as follows (as of 2022):
       a. Direct heirs: Parents, children and children of children 4%
       b. Siblings: 12%
       c. Everyone else: 15%
    An Inventory is a formal document required to be filed with the Department of Court Records. The Inventory lists the “probate” assets of the estate.
  8. Distribution. Once the tax return is approved (usually 6 months from filing) final distribution of assets can be completed. Some assets may have already been distributed by this time, depending upon the type of assets and the estate’s solvency.
  9. Close the estate. The last step in the probate process is to formally close the estate. This is done one of two ways:

    Option 1: A Family Agreement is a contract between the executor and the heirs. It contains a summary of the assets, debts and expenses, taxes paid and distributions made. If everyone agrees, this document is signed and filed, and the estate is complete. It is the less formal and less expensive way to close an estate.

    Option 2: The second way is via an Accounting. It is a detailed summary of the estate transactions that must be approved by the Court. An accounting is more expensive and more time consuming. An Accounting must be used when there are disagreements among beneficiaries, claims of creditors that are disputed by the estate or when there are minor heirs. An Accounting may also be used when there is a particular reason why counsel or the executor wish to Court to review the estate transactions.

Dealing with the probate process while grieving can be a trying experience. At Pecori & Pecori we have guided thousands of estates through the probate process. It is our goal to make what can be a confusing process as simple and stress-free as possible. Contact us to see how we can help today.

The length of the Probate process depends on the complexity of the estate, assets included, and number of beneficiaries. 

In Pennsylvania, probate usually takes a year at minimum. That is because creditors have one year from the date of the decedent’s death to file claims against the estate.

More complex estates or disputes among beneficiaries can cause probate delays. Cases such as those can get tied up in probate court for many years.

The short answer is no. Probate laws vary by state, but in Pennsylvania only certain property in the name of the deceased requires probate. Assets of the deceased such as jointly held property, property in a Trust, retirement accounts and life insurance proceeds all pass outside of the Probate process.

Failing to properly plan now can lead to heartache havoc pain stress for your loved ones down the road.

We look forward to speaking with you

Select a date and time to schedule your FREE consultation with Attorney Robert Pecori ($500 value!).

During this call, we let you do the talking.

If there are opportunities for us to help, we will discuss the next steps after having a better understanding of your needs.

For the safety of our clients and staff we are scheduling these over the internet via Zoom meeting. If you do not have computer access, please contact our office at (412) 788-2000.

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