"What will happen to my possessions when I die?" This is a question that many Pennsylvania residents ask themselves; however, it is also a question that many do not take the time to answer completely. The answer depends upon one's estate plan, or lack of one. In order to answer this question, the first step is typically to create a will. With this will, when one dies, the estate administration process can begin.
Appointing a personal representative is generally the first thing that needs to be done. This individual or company is typically named in the will and is sometimes called the executor. If there was no will, it will be up to the courts to appoint a personal representative, often called an administrator in these circumstances.
One of the primary tasks that the personal representative must complete is an inventory of all assets and liabilities belonging to the deceased individual. The personal representative is then responsible for paying any debts owed from the estate's assets. If there are not enough assets to cover the liabilities, the court will need to determine which creditors should be paid.
Once debts have been paid, as a part of the estate administration process, the personal representative is then responsible for distributing the remaining assets to those specified by the will. Additionally, the personal representative will file any tax returns that are required and will collect any assets owed to the estate. In the event that there is not a will directing the distribution of assets, the Pennsylvania courts will decide how assets should be distributed based upon state laws of intestacy. In order to make things easier for the family that is left behind and to ensure that assets are distributed as desired, one will want to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to decide the appropriate estate planning tools based upon the individual's circumstances and desires.
Source: estate.findlaw.com, "How to Administer an Estate", Accessed on April 23, 2017