What is Probate?
· When someone dies owning assets in their own name or jointly with others, for instance a home or bank account or stock, the title to those assets must be legally changed from the Decedent to their heirs.
· To change the title to an asset from the Decedent to their heirs, however, you need to obtain from the Register of Wills in your County what is called in Pennsylvania a Short Certificate.
· And to do that the Executor or Administrator of the Decedent’s Estate must first go to the office of the Register of Wills and raise (open) an Estate.
· And lastly, before you are given a Short Certificate from the office of the Register of Wills to use to change ownership to an asset, the Executor or Administrator must
· (a) take an oath before the registrar at the Register of Wills
· (b) promising to pay Inheritance taxes
· (c) to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
· (d) through their Agent the Register of Wills
· (e) based on the date-of-death value of the Decedent’s assets
· That’s the Probate process.
What is the difference between an Executor and an Administrator?
· When there is a Will you have an Executor appointed to administer the Estate.
· When there is no Will you will instead have an Administrator appointed who performs the administration of the Estate.
Do I need a lawyer to probate a Decedent’s Estate?
· This is one of the most discussed issues that occur when someone passes away.
· A Pennsylvania Bar Association publication states: “As a practical matter, it is very difficult for a non-lawyer to adhere to the required procedures in administering an Estate without the assistance of an attorney”.
· This obviously sounds like a very self-serving statement.
· Having helped many Estates over the years to navigate the complex and sometimes tricky Probate process, however, I can state with a reasonable degree of certainty that in most cases you will need a lawyer to assist you.
How do lawyers bill a client when performing legal work such as is involved in Probating an Estate?
· Most lawyers bill for their services based on an hourly rate. We bill based on an hourly rate, and we keep track of our time in tenths-of-hours. So for instance, for every six minutes we work on an Estate we bill one-tenth of an hour.
· If we have a phone call or dictate a letter we will bill one-tenth of an hour for every six minutes of activity.
· The beauty of this arrangement is that you only pay for services performed.
Can you provide an estimate of how much it will cost in attorney fees to assist in the administration of an Estate?
· The obvious answer has to be that every Estate is different, and accordingly it is difficult to even make an intelligent “guestimate”.
· The beauty of the lawyer providing itemized time records, however, is that you see the work the lawyer is doing and consequently you see what you are paying for; no more – no less.
· An exhaustive but certainly not an all-inclusive list of tasks that could be performed in probating an Estate are:
o Meeting with the family.
o Reviewing the Will and discussing how to administer the Estate.
o Gathering and reviewing the Decedent’s financial paperwork to ascertain the assets owned by the Decedent at the time of their demise.
o Gathering the assets of the Decedent.
o Arranging for and attending the Inventorying of a Safe Deposit box.
o Preparing the paperwork necessary to raise the Estate at the Register of Wills.
o Obtaining a Federal Taxpayer ID number.
o Contacting the Beneficiaries of the Estate.
o Contacting others and advising them that the Decedent has passed away.
o Opening an Estate checking account.
o Liquidating bank accounts, stocks, bonds, brokerage accounts, etc.
o Obtaining date-of-death valuations of assets for Inheritance Tax
o Dealing with Real Estate in the Estate.
o Filing an Inventory with the office of the Register of Wills.
o Preparing the formal Notice to Beneficiaries.
o Preparing Certification of Notice for the Register of Wills.
o Preparing an estimate of the Pennsylvania Inheritance.
o Taking advantage of the Inheritance Tax Discount.
o Advertising the Estate.
o Corresponding with creditors of the decedent.
o Paying the final bills of the Decedent.
o Preparing the Inheritance Tax Report and paying any Inheritance taxes due the Commonwealth.
o Preparing any Supplemental Inheritance Tax Reports.
o Filing State and Federal tax returns for both the decedent and the Estate.
o Preparing the formal Accounting of the Estate.
o Obtaining a Receipt and Release from the Beneficiaries, or
o Filing for the formal Adjudication of the Estate with the Orphans Court.
o Making the final distribution of the assets of the Estate to the beneficiaries of the Estate.
Why should I hire you to assist me in administering our Estate? What sets your firm apart from other law firms who do this same kind of work?
· The obvious answer would be that we’ve been providing legal services in Pennsylvania since 1973, and in those decades of service we’ve assisted many satisfied clients in administering their Estates.
· But we believe that in addition to our quick response to clients’ telephone calls and our obsessive attention to detail, what really sets us apart from other lawyers is our Billing Transparency.
· When you engage our legal services to help in the Probate process you are provided with a comprehensive set of Billing Guidelines that clearly explain not only what you will pay for, but why.
· For instance, we bill separately for paralegal work. If a task can be competently performed by a paralegal instead of an attorney, even if the lawyer performs it, you will be billed at a paralegal rate. And our firm’s paralegal rate is actually less than half of our hourly lawyer rate. We know of no other lawyer or law firm who has a separate billing rate for paralegal work.
· Also we do not charge for services which could be performed by a secretary.
· Also there is travel-time: We bill at one-half of our hourly rate for traveling on behalf of an Estate. Again, we know of no other lawyer or law firm who bills this way.
· Lastly, you get a monthly itemized invoice setting forth what services have been performed on behalf of the Estate.
· What do clients want when they are charged a legal fee: Transparency, Transparency, Transparency am– “What I paying and why…”
I understand the hourly fee you charge is much lower than other attorneys charge for assisting a client with the Probate process. Why?
In the past we’ve charged $250.00 to $350.00 an hour to provide legal services to a client. Now because of the Internet, professionals such as lawyers are able to maintain what is referred to as a “virtual” law practice. What that means is that we have dispensed with the fancy law office, and the costly overhead, and the expensive legal assistants. And therefore, we are able to pass on these savings to you by lowering our hourly rate.
The benefit to the client is twofold: personal service & lower rates. We meet with our clients in the privacy of their home. Our clients find this to be not only very convenient, but also it provides a familiar and comfortable setting in which to discuss very sensitive topics related to the loss of a love one.
On the other hand, if you would feel more comfortable meeting in an office, we have access to offices in the Philadelphia Metropolitan area.
In Pennsylvania, isn’t it true that there is no Inheritance Tax due when the first spouse dies leaving everything to their surviving spouse; and if so, do you need to file an Inheritance Tax Report?
· That is correct: there is no Inheritance due on assets that pass to a surviving spouse. The Tax rate is zero. You are required, however, to file an Inheritance Tax Report.
· The same occurs even where the expenses of an Estate exceed the taxable value of the assets in the Estate resulting in no tax due. An Inheritance Tax Report must still be filed.
Where Real Estate is owned in joint names and one spouse dies, should the Deed be changed to reflect this?
· It is not necessary to change the Deed in that instance, so why pay to have it done. We usually recommend that the surviving party just include a copy of the first-to-die’s Death Certificate with the Deed together with the Confirmation from the Commonwealth that the Inheritance Tax Report as filed was accepted.
I understand that many times when a lawyer prepares a Will they include a paragraph in the Will stating that the Estate hire them to provide legal services to the Estate – is that true???
· When we prepare a Will for a client we always ask if they will allow us to put a paragraph in the Will stating that the Executor hire our firm as the lawyers for the Estate. We also tell them, however, that this is the only thing in a Will that the Executor does not have to follow.
· If at the time the Will is probated the Executor would like to engage the services of another attorney they may certainly do so – they are under no obligation to hire the lawyer named in the Will.
· Obviously, we would like to be chosen to be counsel for the Estate, but an Executor cannot be forced to hire a lawyer not of their own choosing.
· That privilege of the Executor or Administrator is sacrosanct.
In your law practice do you have a plan to insure that our files will be looked after far into the future?
· Yes we do. Joseph M. Dougherty II and Bonnie Dougherty-Anapol, father and daughter, maintain a working relationship together under the firm name Dougherty & Anapol. Our plan is to keep our firm moving into the future providing dependable legal services to not only our current clients, but our future clients as well.
Do you only do Probate work?
We’ve chosen to narrow our practice to Estate work; particularly Probating Estates.
As part of our Estate Practice, however, we also prepare:
Durable Healthcare Powers of Attorney and Living Wills
General Powers of Attorney, and
Specific Powers of Attorney.
The above is presented to inform not advise. The statements are general, and individual facts in a given case may alter their application or involve other laws not referred to here.