Pennsylvania Estate Planning, Trust, and Executor and Probate Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Initially, many of our clients come to us with the same questions about: estate planning, being an executor, and about protecting their assets, estate, or inheritance in Pennsylvania. This estate law frequently asked questions page is meant to answer the most common questions we hear from clients each day and to help others build a foundation of knowledge about Pennsylvania estate planning, being an executor  in Pennsyvlania, elder law, trust law, and asset protection.

Do you have a question for us about Pennsylvania estate law that you do not see answered below? Contact us today to talk to an experienced lawyer about your legal needs or email your question to David Frees [email protected]
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  • How Much Money, Real Estate or Assets Can I Gift in 2020?

    If you are interested in gifting stocks, bonds, money, real estate, business interests or other assets to one or more children or grandchildren then you are on the right page.  The rules about gifting change just about every year.

    Here is the new information.  However, gifting can be more complicated than you might think.   For example, there are different rules for gift taxes than there are for the nursing home rules under Medicaid.  So use the information here as a guide and get good information from an estate and gift tax adviser based on your personal and specific information.

    Gifting in 2020:

    Annual gift tax exclusion - inflation adjusted to $15,000.00 per person. This amount can be given to a child, grandchild and or their spouses.

    Furthermore, if you are married, each spouse can gift this amount to each desired recipient.

    This means that a married couple can together gift $30,000.000 per year.

    If one spouse has greater assets be sure to ask your adviser about split gifts and whether or not you need to file a 709 gift tax return.

    Lifetime Exclusion (unified credit): In addition to the annual gift tax exclusion, each person now also has a $11.58 million dollar lifetime credit which can be used to make gifts to children and grandchildren and/or their spouses.

    You will be required to file a 709 gift tax return when making gifts larger than the $15,000.00 per year annual gift tax amount but you can use your lifetime credit.

    NOTE:  Gifts of hard to value assets such as real estate or business interests may require not only a gift tax return but an appraisal.

    If you are considering a lifetime gift, you may require the advice of legal counsel.

    However, gifting can radically reduce taxes in certain circumstances and may also need to be coordinated with changes in your wills, trusts,
     and beneficiary designations.  The advice of counsel can therefore be both valuable and can save you and your heirs from later problems that might cost much more to correct.

    David M. Frees III, JD




  • How can I use a charitable lead trust in my Pennsylvania estate planning?

    A charitable lead trust is an estate planning tool that also serves as a way to donate to charitable causes. A donor can set aside donations in the form of money, stocks, property, etc., for a set term of years after their passing.

    It is referred to as a “lead” trust because the charity that the donor designates gets benefits from the Pennsylvania estate before any other beneficiaries (i.e. spouse, family, etc.). In simple terms, it means that once the trust’s terms run out, whatever money or property is left goes to the deceased’s heirs.

    Many people choose a charitable lead trust because after the set amount of time for charity has passed, the heirs can usually receive their benefits tax-free. However, 1 downside to a charitable lead trust is that they are irrevocable.

    This means that once a person puts their assets into a trust they cannot be taken out or changed. Because of this, it’s important to make sure that a charitable lead trust is set up properly and carefully considered before it is but into effect.

    A charitable lead trust attorney can help you make the best legal and economical decision when planning for the future of your family and preferred charities.

    Contact a Pennsylvania Charitable Lead Trust Attorney

    Our experienced estate planning attorneys will help clients implement plans ranging from simple to sophisticated. Contact a Pennsylvania charitable lead trust attorney for more information on how the Law Offices of Unruh, Turner, Burke & Frees can help you. Call us today – 1-610-933-8069.


  • What is Pennsylvania charitable remainder trust?

    A charitable remainder trust is one that is set up to distribute a person’s assets over a stated period of time to designated beneficiaries. Once that time expires, the remaining assets are donated to a charity of choice.

    This type of trust is tax exempt and can help lessen the taxable income of the individual whose Pennsylvania properties and assets will be divided. While a charitable trust attorney can answer your specific questions about a charitable remainder trust, below are some of the general aspects inherent in this type of trust.


    A great benefit in a charitable remainder trust is that it is tax-exempt.

    No capital gains taxes on the sale of assets are required to be paid when you set up a charitable remainder trust. This can save a grantor a lot of money in terms of tax dollars, particularly on highly appreciated assets. Plus, the trustee will receive the full value of the investment, which can in turn, be transferred into another investment with a higher yield.


    If outlined correctly, the charity you select will receive the full value of the transfer of assets. There are some restrictions on what types of charities qualify, so it’s recommended to seek counsel from a Pennsylvania charitable trust attorney.

    What types of assets qualify?

    A wide range of assets can be included in a charitable remainder trust, such as:

    • personal property; 
    • art; 
    • real estate; 
    • mutual funds; 
    • exchange traded funds; 
    • bonds; 
    • stocks; 
    • restricted securities;
    • partnership interests; and 
    • limited liability companies (LLCs), among others.

    Contact a Pennsylvania Charitable Trust Attorney

    To learn more about a charitable remainder trust, an attorney at Unruh Turner Burke & Frees can help. Give us a call at our offices in West Chester: (610) 692-1371; Phoenixville: (610) 933-8069; and Malvern: (610) 240-0750.


  • What planning can be done to reduce taxes on mineral right ownership at death in Pennsylvania?

    To reduce taxes on mineral right ownership at death, you can develop an estate plan that includes a revocable living trust. With a living trust arrangement, the trustee can deed the property to a beneficiary while still exercising his or her owners’ rights until death.

    A living trust also allows your beneficiaries to avoid probate and increases the tax reduction at death.

    Estate planning can be difficult, especially when mineral right ownership is involved; therefore, you should work with a Pennsylvania estate attorney to ensure that your beneficiaries are protected.

    Transferring your mineral right ownership into a living trust varies based on whether the rights are deeded or non-deeded. If you have deeded mineral rights, you will have to create and sign a new deed transferring ownership to the trust. If you have non-deeded rights, you must assign your lease or royalty interest to the name of the trust.

    This process can be more complicated, as you may have to contact the company that provides the royalty payments to learn about their procedure. The taxes for mineral right ownership can be quite expensive, depending on the total value. In addition to paying Pennsylvania inheritance tax, your beneficiaries may also be responsible for paying Federal Estate taxes.

    Contact a Pennsylvania Estate Attorney

    With proper planning, you can help your beneficiaries obtain a tax reduction at death. The Pennsylvania estate attorneys at Unruh, Turner, Burke & Frees are dedicated to helping you with your trust and estate needs. Contact our law office at 610-692-1371 (West Chester), 610-933-8069 (Phoenixville), or 610-240-0750 (Malvern) or fill out our convenient online form today.


  • How are IRAs and qualified retirement plans taxed at death in Pennsylvania?

    IRAs and qualified retirement plans are subject to federal and state income tax as well as estate taxes, which can greatly reduce their value. Whether you are planning your estate or are the beneficiary of an IRA of 401k, you should speak with a Pennsylvania estate attorney to learn how to reduce the retirement plan tax after death.

    When a beneficiary receives a qualified retirement plan after a loved one’s death and cashes it out, this could place him or her in a higher tax bracket. The amount received will be considered taxable income, and the beneficiary may be required to pay a higher percentage of taxes.

    Another form of an IRA tax after death is the estate tax. Even though retirement plans are considered non-probate property, their value is added to the entire value of the estate. Therefore, any probate property and assets must be used to pay the taxes for the estate value.

    There are several ways to avoid paying a retirement plan tax after death. For example, if you are the beneficiary, you can open up an inherited IRA or transfer the assets to your own existing IRA. This will help you avoid any penalties and you will not be taxed.

    If you are planning your estate, you can leave your retirement plans to a charity and other assets, such as real estate, to your loved ones. In this case, the charity will be exempt from paying retirement plan taxes after death and your family can avoid paying federal income or capital gains taxes.

    Hire a Pennsylvania Estate Attorney

    When planning your estate, it is important to keep the tax implications in mind and take measures to reduce the IRA tax after death. The Pennsylvania estate attorneys at Unruh, Turner, Burke & Frees are dedicated to helping you with your trust and estate needs. Contact our law office at 610-692-1371 (West Chester), 610-933-8069 (Phoenixville), or 610-240-0750 (Malvern) or fill out our convenient online form today.


  • When would I use a charitable remainder uni-trust/charitable remainder annuity trust in my Pennsylvania estate planning?

    You would use a charitable remainder uni-trust/charitable remainder annuity trust when you wish to reduce your income and estate taxes as well as provide a contribution to the charity of your choice. A qualified Pennsylvania estate attorney can help you weigh the pros and cons of each type of trust and ensure it is properly established.

    A charitable remainder uni- trust/charitable remainder annuity trust works by allowing you to transfer an asset (such as real estate or stocks) into the trust. The trustee will then sell the asset at full-market value in order to reinvest the proceeds into other assets to produce income.

    The trust will then pay you or your designated beneficiary an income for the rest of your life. After you die, the remaining assets from the trust will be donated to your chosen charity.

    As mentioned earlier, a charitable remainder uni-trust/charitable remainder annuity trust allows you to reduce your income and estate taxes. In addition to the tax breaks, a charitable trust also allows you to avoid capital gains tax, which would significantly reduce the amount you would receive if you had sold your assets on your own.

    The difference between these types of trusts is the way in which the income is paid out each year. With a charitable remainder uni-trust, you or your beneficiary will receive a percentage of the principal value each year.

    This amount is revalued on an annual basis. A charitable remainder annuity trust, on the other hand, provides fixed annual payments.

    Contact a Pennsylvania Estate Attorney

    Establishing a trust is a wise business decision, but can become complicated. The Pennsylvania estate attorneys at Unruh, Turner, Burke & Frees are dedicated to helping you with your trust and estate needs. Contact our law office at 610-692-1371 (West Chester), 610-933-8069 (Phoenixville), or 610-240-0750 (Malvern) or fill out our convenient online form today.


  • How much is the annual gift tax exclusion?

    The annual gift tax exclusion is currently $13,000.00 per person (2009).  This means that without using any of your lifetime exemption (currently $1,000,000.00 million dollars 2009) yo can give any child, grandchild or other person $13,000.00.  If you are married, you can each make a gift of that amount.  And, if one spouse has all of the assets involved in the gift, the other spouse can join in the gift and the couple can make a "split gift"  of $26,000.00.  However, this requires that the gift be reported on form 709.

    Here is a chart of the amount of the annual gift tax exclusion for the past few years.

    David M. Frees III, Esquire 610-933-8069

  • How much can I give away during my lifetime?

    Currently, (2009) each person can give away $13,000.00 to any child, grandchild, spouse of your heirs, or for that matter, any other person.  In addition, you have a lifetime exemption of $1,000,000.00 million dollars that can be given away during your life without a tax.  A form 709 must be filed when gifts of over $13,000.00 are made and gift tax returns should be filed whenever a hard to value asset such as a gift of real estate or a closely held business interest is made.

  • What taxes affect estate planning?

    You are probably not doing a complete and thorough plan unless you consider the ways in which state death (or inheritance taxes) taxes, federal estate taxes, gift taxes, and generation skipping taxes as well as income taxes individually and on trusts.  These taxes are often interrelated. And, the best strategy for one person or family might not be optimal for another.  This is also why your attorney, accoutnant and other advisors might need to work together.  Here is a brief article on the taxes affecting estates.  Click here.

  • How much can I give to my children without having to file a gift tax return in 2012?

    Do you want to give your children or grandchildren some gifts each year to
    reduce your estate, help them with a house or educational expenses but

    don't want to pay taxes?

    CLICK HERE For The most recent information about gifting stocks, realestate
    and other assets to children, grandchildren and others.

    For information about 2012 and earlier years read on....

    2012 Is an important Year for gifting. 

    Currently the annual gift tax exclusion (for 2012) is $13,000.00 per person. 
    So, you can give that amount to each of your children.  But wait.  There's more!

    If you're married you can give even more - see below

    A husband and wife can therefore gift $26,000.00 per child and, if they wish, to each grandchild. 
    This gift is not tax deductible to you but is also not taxable for income tax purposes to the recipient. 
    And, if you're paying tuition bills directly you can give even more - see below

    If you're going to give the $13,000.00 and pay for tuition, you can but you must pay
    the schoold directly.

    Whether your gift is to a child or grandchild, if your gift is at or
    below this $13,000.00 amount, no gift tax return is required.

    For gifts above that amount, a gift tax return may be required but each person also has a
    $5,000,000.00 million dollar lifetime exemption before they must begin to pay tax. 

    You can also make gifts to people other than family members too.

    And, to make matters more complicated, you can also use your non renewable federal estate tax
    exemption of up to $5 million per individual donor.  In short, if you want to help a child to
    buy a house, form a business, or do anything else, you and your attorney should be able to find a
    perfect strategy.

    For more information on gifting to children and grandchildren see our videos on this page or
    if you live in Pennsylvania call 610-933-8069 for a telephone consultation on gifting.

    To receive your complimentray consultation mention attorney David M Frees.


  • Does the federal estate tax apply to me?

    For a quick review see my article on and just click the link.

    For a quick and easy calculator.  Click this link to SmartMoney.

    Remeber, no web based tool can replace specific advice from your professional advisors after a thorough review of your goals and assets.  Please also make sure that your assets are held in a way to optimize the estate planning documents you have created.  Many wills, trusts, and estate plans fail to acieve their primary goals becasue of this problem.

  • What is the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax?

    The inheritance tax is a tax on the assets owned or controlled by a decedent at the time of his or her death. The tax does not apply to life insurance on the decedent's life but it does apply to many non probate assets. It also applies to assets the decedent gifted within one year of the date of death- subject to certain exclusions. The tax rates are dependent on the relationship of the decedent to his or her beneficiaries. The tax rates for beneficiaries are as follows: Spouse: 0% Charity 0% Child: 4.5% Parent: 4.5% Sibling: 12% Everyone Else: 15%. This inheritance tax return is due within 9 months after the date of death. A discount can be achieved for the portion of the tax paid within 3 months after date of death. A six month extension for the filing of the tax return is available during which interest will accrue against any unpaid portion of the tax ultimately due.