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What makes up an estate? Is probate the best way to pass it on?

Most Pennsylvania residents spend their working years taking care of their loved ones and accumulating property and debts. At some point, nearly all of them need to think about what will happen to their loved ones, their debts and their property after death. What exactly makes up an estate? Is probate really the best way to dispose of and distribute everything when the time comes?

Most people are aware of the fact that all of their property, from their homes to their retirement accounts to their household goods makes up their estates. However, that only encompasses part of the equation. What most people may not readily realize is that their debts are also considered part of the estate. They must also be dealt with during estate administration.

Probate can be a lengthy and expensive process. At least some of the assets an individual owns need not go through the probate process. They can be held in trust, distributed through a beneficiary designation or gifted during life. These and other methods can reduce the time that family members will have to wait in order to have access to assets they may need in order to function and provide for themselves after a Pennsylvania resident's death.

Determining the best way to distribute an estate often requires a great deal of planning. Would a trust be the best option? Are the beneficiary designations up to date? How much can be gifted at one time? In order to better understand what methods would work well in a particular situation and obtain answers to these and other questions, it may be beneficial to seek out the assistance of an estate-planning and probate attorney.

Source: bizjournals.com, "What an estate plan can do for you", Wonson Willey, Feb. 1, 2018

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