Estate Administration & Probate

When Experience Matters, Executors Choose Banks Law Group!

Estate Administration can be very serious, scary, confusing, and costly. Death of a loved one is one of the toughest times emotionally and financially people experience. Whether it is well defined or without explanation, there are many issues that need to be addressed when probating a decedents estate. Often these issues exacerbate the intense emotional burdens associated with a Probate action. Determining the best course of action is often times complicated, however; there are options.

There are many variations of options and outcomes when dealing with a Probate action. All depend on the facts of your case. At Banks Law, we fully understand the legal problems facing our clients and the options available for a positive outcome.

Do not hesitate and wait, take control of your legal situation. Allow Banks Law to assist you every step of the way. Contact Attorney Matthew B. Banks directly at 844-815-9632 to evaluate your options.

Estate Administration

When a loved one passes away and you’ve been chosen as the executor by the decedent, the responsibilities and obligations may seem overwhelming, daunting or even a bit scary. Especially considering, for most individuals, this is their first time acting in the official capacity as an estate executor while processing the death of a loved one. This is not easy and you do not have to go down this path alone. As an executor, you are charged with the responsibilities of:
1. compiling an inventory and accounting of all assets
2. raising the estate with the proper court
3. notification of every potential beneficiary
4. remitting payment and resolving all debts
5. acting swiftly, precisely and deliberately to preserve value of any asset of the estate
6. preparing and filing all necessary tax returns
7. distribution of all assets according to the last will and testament or following the intestate succession laws and procedures

Probate is a term that is used in various ways. Probate can refer to the act of presenting a will to a court officer for filing; such as, to “probate” a will. generally, probate refers to the method by which the estate is administered and processed through the legal system.

Many people think that probate applies to you only if you have a will, but this is incorrect. The estate will be probated whether or not you have a will. If you have a valid will, then your will determines how your estate is transferred during probate and to whom. If there is no will, or if the estate passed “partially intestate” (there is a will, but it doesn’t cover all the estate’s property), the laws where one lives specify who gets that part of the estate.

The probate process will be initiated in the county of the decedent’s residence at death. Someone acting on behalf of the decadent’s will come forward with the decedent’s will. Usually, this person is named in the will as executor and is previously chosen by the decedent. If there is no will, someone must ask the court to be appointed as the administrator. If there is a dispute over who should serve as administrator, the court will appoint a neutral administrator who can be counted on to be fair. This person will be paid an hourly fee from the estate funds.

When you commence the probate process in the proper county the court division is referred to as “probate court” and oversees the entire probate process. regardless of the county, administering an estate generally follows the same basic processes and steps:
1. Swearing in a personal representative
2. Notifying heirs, creditors, and the public of death
3. Inventorying property
4. Distributing the estate, which includes paying bills and taxes

Some crucial questions arise when attempting to approach the process alone. From our experience, no matter how similar an estate may be, they are rarely identical. Every person is different and as such, so are the assets or structuring of their affairs. A primary example of this is when certain assets are considered ‘non-probate’, which means they pass to another person without having to go through the probate process. Examples of non-probate assets include: retirement accounts; trust assets; and real estate depending on how its “held” (tenancy by the entirety or joint tenancy with a right of survivorship).

Hiring competent counsel can assist an executor with identifying what assets need to proceed through probate and then properly distributing them accordingly under the law or will. For some individuals they may be able to navigate this particular process with relative ease; however, for most, especially those without experience, navigating the multiple obligations and responsibilities is a time consuming, confusing and risky endeavor. For example, most people use the assistance of a tax preparer to file their annual taxes, but filing an estate tax is only one of the multiple obligations. Additionally, most do not have the professional resources to adequately identify assets of the estate, let alone take the necessary precautions to preserve said value. This is extremely important considering the legal exposure to the executor by the beneficiaries for a drop in value of an asset.

At the Banks Law Group, our Estate Administration team has extensive experience advising executors and estates on the challenging issues surrounding probate court. Our team utilizes a hands-on approach with each executor and walks them through the entire process. whether it is purely legal issues or utilizing our established external professional relationships (realtors, CFP, CPA, Etc.). While each estate presents unique problems and issues for resolution, there is not much our team has not seen. Because of our experience we are routinely the trusted choice for individuals faced with the daunting task of administering a loved one’s estate.

If you feel like you would benefit from our assistance during this difficult time, please contact us directly at 610-816-6414 to schedule your free consultation and estate evaluation. The evaluation will provide a detailed understanding of the process with a focus on the estates unique issues and a detailed assessment of anticipated fees and fee structure. When you leave our evaluation, all of your questions will be answered, including an estate specific detailed plan to take action on the estate.

The Banks Law Group

“It was an absolute privilege to have worked with Matthew Banks and to have been represented by him. His superb attention to detail, problem-solving ability, communication and negotiation skills, and legal prowess make him among the best lawyers we have encountered. Matthew earned the respect of all parties throughout our court proceedings, building an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding which ultimately resulted in the most desirable outcome for all parties. There is no question that we will use Matthew Banks again for future legal proceedings. He has my utmost respect and highest recommendation to anyone searching for the most professional and effective legal representation.”

“Attorney Banks was very helpful during this trying time and was able to get the results we hoped. He was able to simplify and explain the legal process as we progressed. He was able to guide me in what to do if there were any problems with the other party throughout the legal process. He was very knowledgeable and confident in his ability to perform in the legal system.”

“Attorney Banks is the epitome of true professional. He fights strong in the court room and means business. I’d highly recommend him for any case. I’ve used him before and will be using him in the future as well.”

“During your primary phone call with Attorney Banks, expect to immediately feel comfortable with his advice. He is attentive and cares about your needs. He gives strong and note worthy advice that makes an impact. He is great with follow up and his fees are fair. Words cannot express how thankful I am to him. One of the best, truly.”

“Every time I have hired Mr. Banks he has done superb work. He goes to great lengths to gets the job done. He gives 100% all the time. I would highly recommend him to anyone in need of an attorney.”

“Matt has now helped me out a couple of times, and each time has been very sucessful. He is always extremely honest and informative, and was able to get me to learn to relax. When Matt tells you that he will take care of something, you can trust that he will do so quickly and effectively. If you need a professional lawyer that you can count on, Mr. Banks is certainly the man you want!”

“I had met Attorney Matthew Banks when he was just starting out. I didn’t know him as a lawyer, but as a customer at where I worked. I switched jobs and hadn’t talked to him in years. But when my teenage son got him self in some trouble he is who I thought of to call. Now since I had last talked to Attorney Banks, he had built up his firm quite substantially. I thought for sure he would just assign my case to another lawyer in his firm. I mean the case was a big deal to me because it was my son but it was nothing that was news worthy or very interesting. Yet he called me back directly, said he would take my case. The communication from his office is outstanding. I never had to call again, they reached out to me, multiple times. Kept me up to date with every step of my sons case. Charmaine and Ashley are definitely assets to Banks Law Firm. They emailed me or called and helped me with any questions or to remind me of upcoming court dates. Attorney Matthew Banks showed up for all the court dates and you could just tell at the Reading Court House that he had gained a lot of respect from all the staff including other laywers and Judges. He also took the time to talk to my son, give him advice and direction. I hope I am never in need of an attorney again, but I feel very thankful knowing that I would be in such good hands. I will of course be recommending Attorney Banks and his staff to everyone I know.”

“Attorney Banks was most professional, yet compassionate, when we shared facts with him. He listened and pointed us in the right direction, all the while maintaining the up most professionalism and respect. He was patient, clear and concise, and reviewed things as needed to make sure it was understood. After several months of indecision and not sure who to turn to, Attorney Banks finally had everything on the right path, gave me clear specifics, and offered to keep in touch to make sure all worked out well for us. Our family only has the highest regard for Attorney Banks, and would highly recommend him to anyone who is seeking a true credit to the legal profession. We are so very grateful for the personal recommendation of Attorney Banks, and hope that we, too, can help someone else as well. Our confidence in the legal profession is greatly restored! Kudos, Attorney Banks!”

Initial Actions After You Are Appointed as Executor

An executor (or administrator) of an estate has numerous duties and responsibilities which spring into action as soon as probate is complete and Letters Testamentary (or of Administration) are granted.

Shortly after obtaining the Letters Testamentary, you should open an Estate account at a trusted bank in order to deposit all the monetary assets of the estate, as well as all proceeds from sale/liquidation of assets. When at all possible, all payments on behalf of the estate should be made from this estate account. When it isn’t possible, take careful records of any payments made on behalf of the estate so that they can be listed properly later on and reimbursed.

The number one duty of the executor is to collect and preserve assets of the estate. This means securing homes, vehicles, accounts, and other property and making sure they don’t suffer damage or other loss in value. Move quickly to ensure that no one is using, accessing, or taking estate property without your express permission, since that is the most common cause of loss of value. In the event of complex assets that are naturally at risk of losing value, such as stocks or sensitive investments, immediately begin searching for suitable expert to handle the assets. An executor is directly responsible for loss of estate value that they could have or should have prevented!

Next, legal notices of the Estate are to be advertised in select newspapers to inform debtors, and notice is to be provided to the beneficiaries (yes, even yourself if you are also one) and then certification filed with the Register of Wills. Then begins one of the most important steps of Estate Administration: Document collection.

Document Collection

The longest and arguably the most important part of the Estate Administration process is figuring out what the decedent’s assets and liabilities are. The only way to do this is by collection of documents and only you, the executor, has the legal power to access many of the documents that are necessary. Most financial institutions will not speak to anyone except the executor. Start your search by going through the decedent’s residence, begin collecting and reviewing mail (and change the mail forwarding if necessary), check computers, and follow up with the relevant institutions for anything found with the relevant institutions to get up to date statements or confirmation that the asset in question no longer exists.
The following is a list of documents that an estate administration attorney will need in order to assist you with the administration of the estate, and the preparation of the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Return as well as other required documents. Not all of these documents will exist for every estate; however, each item should be checked for in every instance to ensure a complete picture of the decedent’s assets and liabilities.
1. The decedent’s will (the original if not already probated).
2. 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.
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 catering, cemetery charges, headstone, engraving, soloist, organist or payment to clergy. (A funeral home will generally provide a large itemized receipt).
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. Keep a careful watch on the decedent’s mail to ensure that all such liabilities are found.
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 most recent federal and state income tax returns.
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:
– 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.
– All beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will.
–  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 an attorney to review. Err on the side of showing too much, rather than too little.

Estate Administration Timeline

This is a description of the general timeline for the administration of an estate in Pennsylvania from the perspective of the Executor/Administrator. It is strongly advised to obtain an attorney for the estate so that some of the more technical steps are handled professionally. Below is the expectation of the timeline in normal circumstances:

General Duties
The general duties of an executor or administrator of an estate are to:

  • Collect and protect the assets of the estate;
  • Pay debts and taxes owed by the decedent or the estate; and
  • Distribute the estate in accordance with the will (or, if there is no will, in accordance with the Pennsylvania Intestacy Laws)

Initial Tasks Shortly after death, it is usually necessary to:

  • Arrange for the funeral (there is no surviving spouse, children, or other next of kin).
  • If there is unoccupied real estate, make sure that it and any valuables in or around it are secure
  •  Seek an attorney to assist with the administration of the estate.
  • Arrange for the probate of the will (or the grant of letters of administration if there is no will) with the Register of Wills.
    Within Three Months of Death
  • Open an Estate account with a trusted bank to hold estate funds.
  • Notify banks, employers, insurance companies, investment companies, and others of the death, and begin identifying assets and liabilities of the decedent.
  • Begin collecting the mail of the decedent to assist with identification of assets and liabilities. If appropriate, arrange for the decedent’s mail to be forwarded.
  •  Take control of assets like real estate, vehicles, and investments, and arrange for their maintenance to preserve their value.
  • Advertise the grant of letters by the Register of Wills.
  • Send required written notices to the beneficiaries under the will (or Intestacy Laws), and file the certification to the Register of Wills.

Within Six Months of Death

  • Complete review and search for assets and liabilities of the estate.
  • Estimate funds needed to pay the liabilities and death taxes, and plan for any sales of assets, such as real estate or vehicles, needed to distribute estate.
  • Prepare and file inventory of estate with Register of Wills.

Within Nine Months of Death

  • Prepare and file Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Return.
  • (If necessary) Prepare and file the Federal Inheritance Return.
  • Prepare and file any other death tax returns needed for real estate located in other states.

Other Tasks

  • Prepare and file decedent’s final lifetime income tax returns, federal and state (due April 15 of year following death).
  • During the administration of an estate, federal and state income tax returns must be filed showing the income and expenses of the estate.

Distribution of Estate
The distribution of assets from the estate can begin at any time. However, to avoid potentially serious underfunding issues it is best to wait until the final figures for the assets and liabilities and the death taxes are available and the beneficiaries have agreed to a distribution and are willing to sign a “Receipt and Release.”

This concludes the estate in one of two ways:

  • A formal accounting may be filed with the Court for approval of the estate administration and distribution. This is a time-intensive and costly process and is generally avoided using the next method.
  • If all beneficiaries are in agreement, they may each sign a “Receipt and Release” which would approve the administration and distribution of the estate without need for formal accounting.

Final Filings
Once the administration of an estate has been completed and the assets have been distributed notice should be given to the Register of Wills through a status report.


At Banks Law, you will always come first. Contact us Today for your free consultation and case evaluation. 844-815-9632