How a Personal Representative Can Avoid Paying Out of Pocket for Mistakes

A person who takes on the responsibility of serving as an estate representative may not understand the risks involved. These risks are serious and should not be underestimated when deciding to serve.


All representatives take on the risk of personal legal and financial liability for any negligence during the administration process. Legal risks mean that the representative can be sued by estate beneficiaries, creditors and government agencies for mistakes in handling debts and claims, even inadvertent mistakes. When a party who believes their rights to the estate have been violated, the disappointed party may bring a legal action to enforce their rights called a surcharge action. These legal matters arise when a party was not paid what they believe they should have received from the estate. A good example would be the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania suing the representative for failing to make request for and pay a Medicaid lien before distribution.


Unfortunately, the risks do not end with the hassle and expense of defending lawsuits. The other more serious risk is personal financial liability. Some are shocked to discover that the law holds a representative personally responsible for mistakes in estate administration. This means that the representative’s own assets can be targeted by any party who was unhappy with the way the estate was closed. Even in situations where a claim is resolved favorably, the mishandled situation can lead to delays in closing the estate.



How Missing a Probate Deadline Can Cause Major Financial Headaches

The months following the passing of a loved one are a time of great difficulty and sadness for the surviving family. It is also during this time that the pressure to complete the legal and financial responsibilities for the estate begins. It is not uncommon and even quite natural to delay taking action to settle a loved one’s estate. The legal responsibilities can be overwhelming. But Pennsylvania has strict deadlines for completing the probate process. And even worse, failing to meet these deadlines can have financial consequences for the family and even personal liability for the estate’s personal representative.


The most common types of questions we are asked by new clients usually involve questions about the legal deadlines. What things must to be done and by what deadlines? What happens if the deadlines are missed? Will the Department of Revenue pursue me for financial penalties?


What are some of the key deadlines?


Is Probate Necessary When a House was Jointly Titled?

Properties which were jointly titled with another person can create confusion for families who have lost a loved one. It is common for family members to pass away leaving property that was co-owned with another person. We are often asked What should be done with estate property that was co-owned with another person?


Who has rights to jointly owned property?


Rights to jointly titled property (co-owned) at the time of passing depends upon how the property was titled. This is a critical question for the heirs to a deceased person’s estate because the heirs’ interest in the property depends on this titling.


Below are the three most common ways to title property and how the heirs’ rights are affected.