When Do I Need a Lawyer After Someone Has Died?

After a loved one has passed away, certain steps have to be taken for which a lawyer’s help is ordinarily needed. There are other practical actions and decisions that family members can usually undertake without the help of an attorney.

Which steps require an attorney?

“Administering an estate" means to wind up somebody's affairs and conclude all necessary business and arrangements after someone has died.

Certain family and practical matters - including some decisions that need to be made immediately following a death - may be necessary but are not cause for retaining an attorney. Such pragmatic choices and acts may include deciding about organ donation; contacting family members and loved ones; making funeral arrangements; and arranging care for pets and dependents.

You also usually don’t need a lawyer for preliminary steps such as ordering death certificates from the funeral director, or to search for and locate an original Last Will and Testament or trust documents. You can also begin on your own to gather financial records concerning assets, accounts, insurance, debts, etc.

So when do you need to consult an estates or probate attorney for guidance and assistance? Here is a description of the work that we as lawyers usually do for clients, to administer am estate.

Determine if probate estate proceedings (a court-administered legal process) are needed and whether or not an Executor or Administrator must be officially appointed to administer the estate. It if no estate needs to be opened, and no Executor needs to be appointed, then we will not do so, and will save a great deal of time, energy and money.

  1. On the other hand, if probate estate proceedings are necessary, we will open the probate estate and procure the appointment of the Executor or Administrator. This involves preparing the right paperwork and appearing in person downtown to be sworn in.
  2. Inventory the assets of the decedent, including nonprobate assets such as “Pay on Death” and joint accounts, which do not pass through probate but must be accounted for on the Pennsylvania Inheritance tax return.
  3. Make advance arrangements to open and inventory any safe deposit box. This procedure requires contacting the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue and the bank ahead of time to be permitted to open the box.
  4. Check for unclaimed property and obtain a Statement of Claim from the PA Department of Human Services. Individuals often leave behind small or even large amounts of unclaimed property. In addition,when someone has received Medicaid such as for nursing home care, the Commonwealth may have a claim for reimbursement.
  5. Advertise the estate and notify creditors and other parties in interest. Dealing with creditors is especially important in insolvent estates
  6. Prepare and file probate estate filings, including Notice and Certification, Inventory, etc.
  7. Sell/liquidate assets and transfer or retitle accounts to new owners. Our experienced staff most often handle this paperwork, which can be confusing and annoying. Every company has their own forms and demands a slightly different set of documents.
  8. Pay bills, debts, claims and expenses
  9. Prepare and file Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax return and pay tax (and Federal estate tax as well if needed). We are experienced doing with these tax returns, as well as required fiduciary income tax returns for estates. We also help clients save money by making estimated payments at a discount.
  10. Prepare and obtain signatures on Family Settlement Agreement and summary Account, OR file formal Account for Audit in Court. At the end of the process, we often help smooth the way toward family consensus and agreement by answering questions and providing explanations for anxious participants.
  11. Make final distributions, and establish and fund continuing Trust arrangements if needed
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