When a person dies, that person's Will must be probated. Probate requires paperwork being filed at the courthouse and the installation of the executor or executor to administer the estate. If there is no Will, an administrator or administratrix needs to be appointed. That estate representative is the person responsible for collecting all of the assets, paying all the debts, filing the tax returns, complying with state laws and rules, etc. It is the duty of attorneys to assist estate representatives with their fiduciary responsibilities, to accomplishing their work in a timely and accurate fashion.
Historically, there was a division of the Courts of Pennsylvania. The division known as the Orphans' Court has rules relating to powers of judges dealing with Orphans' Court issues. The Orphans' Court deals with matters pertaining to Wills, guardianships of children and guardianships for elderly people or individuals who are incompetent, special rules relating to trusts and resolution of estates, matters relating to adoption, etc.
Pennsylvania has what is known as an Inheritance and Estate Tax Act. There are four different tax rates. The tax rate that most often applies is the zero rate for spouses and the 4½% to lineal descendants. There are however additional rates known as the sibling rate, which is 12%, and the 15% rate that is for all others. For very large estates, presently estates exceeding five million dollars there is also the Federal Estate Tax, which has again been integrated with the Federal Gift Tax. Additionally, there are fiduciary income tax returns that may be required for both Pennsylvania and the U.S. government which require reporting of funds generated by assets while those assets are undergoing the process of estate administration.
In addition to the tax aspects involved in settling estates, there are state legal requirements having to do with advertising, procuring estate Tax ID Numbers, rendering an accounting for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the estate and generally following various state statutes and state rules governing the manner in which states are to be administered.
Frequently, if an estate involves only family members, and the family can agree, the estate can be settled promptly with the use of family settlement agreement, in which all people agree to the terms and disposition of the assets. Other times it may be necessary to prepare an accounting and obtain Court approval of the accounting and disposition of all assets.
In the vast majority of cases, it is unusual for an estate to be open longer than nine months to a year. Extenuating circumstances such as a business to run or a vast amount of assets to liquidate can extend the time required for estate administration, and the date when an estate can be closed.