Five Best Practices to Avoid Probate Pitfalls

The stress of the loss of a loved one is often the most difficult time of a person’s life. Family members want to honor the wishes of their loved one and make sure the estate was handled right. But it is easy to make mistakes while under the stress of a loss.


In the estate administration process, mistakes in handling of the estate can lead to surcharge actions against the estate executor or administrator. Having time and money tied up in a court dispute does not benefit the estate representative or the beneficiaries. What should an executor do to avoid disputes with beneficiaries and creditors?

Here are five best practices we follow to help avoid pitfalls in estate administration.


1.  Secure the original will as soon as possible. If the original is lost, a legal petition is necessary to seek admission of the copy. The petition is a request the court to admit a copy of the Will into probate as if it were the original. But admission of a copy is not guaranteed, especially if the deceased’s heirs challenge the copy’s admission. In Pennsylvania, if the original is lost, there is a rebuttable presumption that the deceased destroyed and revoked the Will.


2.  The executor should obtain a signed settlement agreement with all beneficiaries. This is a binding agreement between the executor and all the beneficiaries agreeing to how the estate was handled. The agreement protects the executor from potential future claims by the beneficiaries and gives the executor indemnification rights should a creditor seek payment after distribution.


3.  Publish the estate. Publication is accomplished by placing two ads in a legal and a general circulation newspaper. Clients sometimes ask us why the formality of a newspaper ad is necessary in 2022. The reason is that the law protects the executor when an estate is published, even if the law is antiquated.


4.  Make sure each person receiving property as an advancement signs a receipt. It is natural for beneficiaries to want to take possession of the deceased’s property, especially those items with sentimental value. But distributing personal property affects both the inheritance taxes and the rights of other beneficiaries of the estate. An estate representative can be held responsible for losing track of who received specific items of property.


5.  Executors should at least consider taking a commission. Serving as an executor can be a time-consuming job. If the executor views the job as a thankless hassle, it would be better to accept compensation than to take disastrous shortcuts.


As a probate law firm for estate executors, we help settle estates efficiently and reduce stress. If you know someone faced with a probate process or roadblocks to an estate property sale, please have them contact us for a free evaluation at:


Phone: (215) 918-4242



If you are not quite ready for a consultation, download our probate handbook HERE. We’ll send you helpful probate guides and resources so you know how to handle the estate.

How to Conclude Estate Administration the Right Way

An estate executor or administrator’s job can be a difficult and time-consuming task. The job involves a great deal of administration tasks, handling legal and financial affairs, and keeping beneficiaries satisfied with the administration process. Executors are often motivated to honor their loved one by making sure the estate is done right and disputes are kept to a minimum.


What is the best way to wind down and close the estate administration process? Should a representative just stop working when it feels right to do so? That’s not a good plan if the goal is to stay out of trouble.


Executors should always keep in mind that the executor alone is the one who can be held personally liable for any mistakes. Major mistakes in estate administration can result in surcharge petitions filed by disappointed beneficiaries or creditors. A successful petition can result in the executor paying out of their personal funds to pay for mistakes. Due to the risks of serving as representative, it makes sense to conclude estate administration in a way that reduces risks that could arise after the estate is closed.



Keeping an Estate Out of Surcharge Actions

Many people feel a sense of pride and honor when nominated to serve as an estate executor. For some, the process of administering the estate brings a sense of closure after a painful loss.


But serving as an estate executor is a job which should not be taken lightly. The personal representative has potential personal legal and financial liability for mistakes during the administration process. Executors have a duty to ensure the estate is administered according to the law and that the estate assets are distributed properly. Proper distribution includes payment of taxes, government claims for medical assistance, creditors and beneficiaries in the right amounts.


Any beneficiary of the Will, creditor of the deceased, or governmental entity with a claim may seek to enforce their right to be paid. These kinds of petitions are known as surcharge actions. A common type of surcharge action called a Petition for Formal Accounting is where the executor is called to account for the handling of the estate before an Orphans Court Judge.