1. What is a Will?

A Will is a legal document which directs who shall inherit your property, how your debts are paid, who will serve as Guardian of your minor children, what is to be done with your remains, and who will manage your Estate. By drafting and executing a Will, you are able to control all of these vital aspects of your final arrangements.

2. What if I die without a Will?

Without a Will, you have no control over who is chosen to manage your Estate or who ultimately inherits your property. These important questions are decided according to Pennsylvania Law which may not agree with your wishes. For example ~ specific items of great sentimental value, such as wedding/engagement rings or other jewelry, may be sold and the proceeds divided among numerous heirs rather then going to an intended heir.

3. Who should make a Will?

Every adult individual should consider making a Will. A common mistaken belief is that Wills are only necessary for individuals with great wealth or complicated Estates. This is not the case.  Aside from directing who should inherit your property, a Will also provides direction regarding funeral arrangements, burial arrangements, memorial services, in addition to naming Guardians for any minor children and naming the individual who is to manage the Estate. Furthermore, even though your Estate may be modest at this time, there is always the chance that your Estate may significantly increase in value due to events as common as finding a better paying job or as uncommon as prevailing in a lawsuit or winning the lottery.

4. How often should I revise my Will?

Every Will should be reviewed occasionally to ensure that the document still reflects your intent regarding your final arrangements. A good rule of thumb would be to review the Will every three (3) to five (5) years.

Additionally, events such as marriage, divorce or the birth/adoption of children will have an effect on how the provisions of your Will are interpreted and carried out. Upon the occurrence of any of these events, your Will should be reviewed and revised if necessary.

5. What if I change my mind about the contents of my Will?

In Pennsylvania a Will is not filed (or probated) until after a person dies. As a result, you can change or update your Will throughout your life as circumstances require. The terms of the Will are kept confidential until after you pass away.

6. Can I write my own Will?

Some individuals opt to draft their own Will utilizing standardized kits or computer software programs instead of having the attorney handle the procedure. While any Will may be better then no Will at all, you should be aware that writing a Will involves judgment and skills acquired only through professional training and experience. The knowledge of federal and state tax laws is certainly beneficial in preparing a Will. A Will not skillfully drafted could result in your Estate being distributed in a manner contrary to your wishes and lead to unnecessary legal costs if challenges are raised by disgruntled heirs.  

Estate Administration

1. Do I need legal help?

By scheduling a consultation with an attorney, your legal questions with regard to settling the estate can be answered. The attorney would be able to advise you as to whether or not an estate needs to be raised in view of the particular facts and circumstances of each individual estate.

You will want to consult with an attorney who concentrates their practice in estates as they will be experienced in dealing with the variety of legal issues that could be involved in settling an estate.

2. What would determine whether an estate needs to be raised?

This would be determined by what the decedent (deceased person) owned, how those assets are titled and the indebtedness of the estate, all of which would also dictate whether or not the estate will be relatively simple or involved.

3. What does probate involve?

Probate is a legal process whereby when a person dies leaving a Will, the executor (legal representative as dictated by the decedent in Will) presents the Will to the Register of Wills for probate to prove its validity. The Register of Wills then appoints the executor and Letters Testamentary will be issued by the Register of Wills which authorizes a person(s) to act as the personal representative(s) of the estate. The executor has the responsibility of notifying the beneficiaries and creditors of the death of the decedent. The executor also secures and manages the assets of the estate, satisfies all claims against estate, pays estate taxes and distributes the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.

4. What if a person dies without leaving a Will?

If the decedent did not have a Will (intestate) or if the Will fails to name an executor, the register of Wills will appoint the appropriate person or entity to act as Administrator of the estate, at which time Letters of Administration are issued. The Administrator has the responsibility of notifying the beneficiaries and creditors of the death of the decedent, securing and managing the assets of the state, satisfying all claims against estate, pays taxes and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries in accordance with the laws in intestate succession which are determined by state law.

5. How long does it take to administer an estate?

Administration of an estate can be a lengthy process which commonly can take a year or more to complete depending on the complexity of the estate. Each step of the process requires legal documentation and validation, along with detailed accounting which may take a considerable amount of time.

6. What documentation will my attorney need with regard 
to the estate?

You will need to collect and identify a variety of documents which generally will include:

Death Certificates (Your funeral director can furnish you with certified copies of the death certificate. Purchase a minimum of 12, as most companies will request a certified copy.)

Original Will

Beneficiary Information (name, address, telephone number, social security number and date of birth)

Deeds (to include jointly held property and property in trust)

Bankbooks, Certificate of Deposits, Savings Bonds and Account Statements

Stock Certificates and Investment Account Statements

Pension, IRA and 401 (k) account information

Former employers, union or professional organizations with which the decedent may have had an association (for insurance benefits)

Life Insurance Policies and Benefits (some loans, mortgages, and credit card accounts are covered by credit life insurance)

Credit Card and Loan Accounts information

Individual income tax returns for previous year(s)


Newman, Williams, Mishkin, Corveleyn, Wolfe & Fareri, P.C.  -  Attorneys At Law
570-421-9090, Fax 570-424-9739
712 Monroe Street, Stroudsburg, PA 18360

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