Estate Administration During the Current Public Health Emergency
Updated: May 13, 2020
The current public health emergency caused by the coronavirus has resulted in additional complications and obstacles when it comes to the estate administration process such as probating a will, getting bills paid, monitoring and dealing with the management of assets, preserving insurance coverages, etc.. Although Pennsylvania and its counties have relaxed some of the standards and rules related to estate administration, other obstacles still remain in place. This article which is updated regularly will quickly review the status of each of Chester, Montgomery, Berks, Bucks, and Delaware Counties.
You should also know that while we are deemed to be an essential business, our physical offices are still required to be closed pending some final planning and preparation to ensure your safety. Under a recent modification of the Governor’s Order, we can begin, on a limited basis to staff the office and to see clients on an essential basis. In the meantime, the trusts and estates attorneys of UTBF continue to work remotely and are ready to talk with you by phone or video conference to discuss matters related to the estate administration process, as well as to assist and advise you on navigating the new temporary guidelines that the local Register of Wills offices have made to handle the estate administration matters.
Currently, the Registers of Wills for Philadelphia and the surrounding counties (Bucks, Berks, Delaware, Lebanon, and Montgomery) are all closed until further notice; Chester county is currently open on a limited basis. These offices have staff members working remotely and processing applications and petitions on an emergency basis only. At this time, to open up an estate and probate a Will, the Registers of Wills are allowing for virtual probate on an emergency basis only. It's important to have a discussion with a qualified estate administration attorney who can help you determine whether an estate can be probated on an emergency basis or if you have to wait to probate at a later date. Many of these situations are fact-specific and require careful legal analysis by the estate administration attorney.
For estates already open or pending, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has extended filing deadlines for Inheritance Tax Returns (Form Rev-1500) and Fiduciary Income Tax Returns (Form PA-41). For Rev-1500, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has provided guidance to the Register of Wills that for filings of Inheritance Tax Returns, stating that for any returns or payments due while a county's Register of Wills office remains closed, those county offices are instructed to mark the date it was received as of March 12. The Department of Revenue is also making modifications to ensure that penalties will not be applied for late payments. For form PA-41, these returns were originally due April 15 but are now due July 15. Be sure to consult us for specific questions regarding your situation. Otherwise, all other aspects related to the estate administration process can go forward.
There may be additional complications and obstacles to overcome while the public health emergency remains in place. For example, if you are trying to sell the decedent's real estate, the current stay-at-home order has created additional obstacles when it comes to showing and selling a home. Additionally, the recent volatility in the stock markets and other investment assets requires careful navigation to avoid potential landmines that might go off, resulting in unhappy beneficiaries and increased personal liability for the personal representative or executor.
If you have any questions about elder law, estate planning, or the estate administration process, please contact any of the attorneys in our Trusts & Estates practice group.
By: David M. Frees, Douglas L. Kaune, and Andrew P. Friedlander
FOR QUESTIONS OR SCHEDULING: Please call our office at 610-933-8069, or email us.