Wills, Estates & Elder Law FAQ's

What should I do when a loved one dies?
  1. Gather together name, address, and phone number of deceased
  2. Length of residency in state
  3. Business name, address, and phone number
  4. Occupation and title
  5. Social Security number; date and place of birth
  6. U.S. citizenship
  7. Parents' names and birthplaces
  8. If applicable, military serial number or religious name

Notify

  1. Doctor(s) and funeral director
  2. All relatives and friends
  3. Employer of the deceased
  4. Insurance agents (life, health, and accident)
  5. Any organizations of which the deceased was a member
  6. Attorney, accountant, or executor of the estate

Decide and Arrange within a Few Hours

  1. Burial location and casket type
  2. Inscription on crypt front or gravestone
  3. Clothing for deceased
  4. Type of service (religious, military, or fraternal)
  5. Clergy to officiate
  6. Place and time of service
  7. Organizations to which donations can be made in memory of the deceased
  8. Provide information for eulogy
  9. Select casket bearers
  10. Flowers and music
  11. Prepare a home to receive guests after the service (including food and extra chairs) and/or arrange for a restaurant meal
  12. Arrange transportation, including funeral car list
  13. Check and sign paper for burial permit
  14. Meet and talk with clergy, funeral director and cemetery representatives about all details
  15. Greet friends and relatives who call
  16. Provide lodging for out-of-town relatives
  17. Make list of all cards, callers, contributions, and floral tributes for mailing cards of thanks
  18. Consult will regarding special arrangements and plan accordingly
  19. Order death certificates
  20. Make arrangements for child care

Collect Documents

  1. Will
  2. Birth certificate or other legal proof of age
  3. Social Security card
  4. Marriage license
  5. Citizenship papers
  6. Insurance policies (life, health, accident, property)
  7. Bank books
  8. All deeds
  9. Bill of sale of car
  10. Income tax returns, receipts, or cancelled checks
  11. Veteran's discharge certificate
  12. Disability and pension claims
What is probate?

Probate is the process whereby a decedent's assets are transferred to his/her beneficiaries either pursuant to a Will or the Pennsylvania intestate laws. The probate process begins with the appointment of the estate's personal representative. Assets are gathered and debts are paid.

The assistance of a Pennsylvania wills, estates and elder law attorney is recommended as several legal forms including a Petition for Grant of Letters, public notices, inventory, inheritance tax return, and court accounting or family settlement agreement must be filed.

After all debts and filing requirements are satisfied, the remaining assets are distributed to the decedent's beneficiaries.

How will my property be taxed at the time of my death?

Pennsylvania inheritance tax applies to any estate regardless of the size of the estate. Pennsylvania inheritance tax is a tax on the beneficiary's right to receive your property. The amount of tax a beneficiary pays depends on the value of the property they receive and their relationship to you.

For property going to a spouse and if the date of death is after January 1, 1995, the inheritance tax rate is 0%.

For property going to a child and if the date of death is after June 30, 2000, the inheritance tax rate is 4.5%.

For property going to a sibling and if the date of death is after June 30, 2000, the inheritance tax rate is 12%.

For property going to collateral heirs (nieces, nephews, or unrelated beneficiaries) and if the date of death is after December 11, 1951, the inheritance tax rate is 15%.

Many factors will influence the amount of inheritance tax your estate will have to pay so it is best to contact an estates lawyer.

What is a durable power of attorney?

A durable power of attorney is a legal document that allows you to designate an agent (often your spouse or children) to "step into your shoes" and perform a variety of functions for you in the unfortunate event of an incapacitating injury. These functions can include signing checks, purchasing stocks and bonds, selling or leasing property, and many other financial functions.

Failure to create a durable power of attorney can have disastrous effects. In the event of an emergency where you are rendered incapacitated and unable to handle your own assets, your family must go to court to have a guardian appointed by the court to oversee your affairs. Compared to the relatively quick process of creating a durable power of attorney, this can be exceedingly long and expensive. Additionally, until such a guardian is appointed, your spouse or family will be unable to sell any property that you jointly own, even if it becomes necessary to pay for your medical care.

Creating a durable power of attorney is a relatively quick and inexpensive strategy to ensure that you, your family, and your assets are protected in the event of an emergency. Given the safety and low cost of creating a durable power of attorney, and the possible expense and dangers of not doing so, it is very important for you and your family to take the steps to protect yourselves now. If you wait until an injury occurs, you may be stripped of any ability to do so.

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