Checklist of What Must be Done After Your Loved One Dies

Clipboard with checklist

  1. Locate original will, trust, insurance policies and deeds.
  2. Contact both the funeral home and church to make arrangements and publish obituary notice.
  3. Obtain 10 Certified Death Certificates from the Undertaker.
  4. Contact Social Security, the Veterans Administration, and any other payers of pensions to stop direct deposits.
  5. Contact life insurance company to determine death benefits.
  6. Contact utility companies, cable TV, cell phone, pest control and lawn care to cancel service or change billing status.
  7. Contact homeowners, auto and health insurance to cancel coverage or change policy.
  8. Remove your loved one’s name from the car registration if held jointly.
  9. Contact all three credit reporting agencies (Transunion, Experian and Equifax) and cancel all the credit cards in your loved one’s name.
  10. Cancel or change all memberships and magazine or newspaper subscriptions.
  11. Contact an attorney to see if probating the estate is necessary and bring a list of all the assets.
  12. Have the mail forwarded to the executor if needed.
  13. If probating the estate is not necessary, transfer title on all the jointly owned assets such as bank and brokerage accounts to the surviving owner and remove your loved one’s name and social security number. You may leave one joint account open for 8 months after the date of death in case you need to deposit a check in their name.
  14. Update your life insurance policy and retirement accounts to remove your loved one as beneficiary.
  15. If your spouse and yourself own any real property jointly you do not need to change the deeds but you will need their death certificate when the property is sold.

Feel free to contact Gregory J. Spadea, Esquire of Spadea & Associates, LLC online or at 610-521-0604 to help you probate your loved one’s estate.

Qualifying for the Family-Owned Business Exemption from Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax

Beginning July 1, 2013, the transfer at death of certain family owned business interests are exempt from the Pennsylvania inheritance tax. Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax is currently 4.5% for linear descendants, 12% for siblings and 15% for everyone else. To qualify for the family-owned business exemption, a family-owned business interest must:

  1. Have been in existence for five years prior to the decedent’s death;
  2. Have less than 50 full time equivalent employees and a net book value of assets totaling less than $5,000,000 at the date of the decedent’s death;
  3. Be engaged in a trade or business, the principal purpose of which is not the management of investments or income producing assets;
  4. Be transferred to one or more qualified transferees – the decedent’s husband or wife, grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, or children, siblings or their children. Children include natural children, adopted children; and stepchildren;
  5. Owned by a qualified transferee for a minimum of seven years after the decedent’s death;
  6. Reported on a timely filed Pennsylvania inheritance tax return and filed within 9 months of the decedents date of death, or within 15 months of the decedent’s date of death if the estate or person required to file the return was granted the six month statutory extension.

The transferee must file an annual certification and notify the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue within thirty days of any transaction or occurrence causing the qualified family-owned business to fail to qualify for the exemption. Failure to comply with the certification or notification requirements results in a total loss of the exemption.

If you feel you qualify for the family-owned business exemption please contact Gregory J. Spadea online or at 610-521-0604 of Spadea & Associates, LLC in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.

What To Do If You Receive An IRS Summons

Notepad with sign Owe Taxes

A summons requires you to provide the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) with information that is relevant to your tax. The IRS will summon information after it has already informally requested the information using form 4564 – Information Document Request. The IRS uses a summons to determine whether a tax return is correct, to prepare a substitute for return when none was filed or to collect tax. To obtain this information, the IRS may serve a summons directly on the subject of the investigation or any third party who may possess relevant information. In doing so, the IRS may examine books and records including documents such as invoices or bank statements. The IRS may also summon the testimony of the person possessing the records.

In many cases, the IRS is required to notify the taxpayer about other persons or entities receiving the third-party summons. Two significant exceptions to this notice rule are: (1) the summons was issued in connection with a criminal investigation to a person who is not a third party record keeper such as a bank, an accountant, broker, enrolled agent or investment company, (2) the summons was issued in aid of collection of an assessment made or judgment rendered against the person with respect to whose tax liability the summons is issued. In other words, there has already been a judgment or tax assessment made against the taxpayer and the summons is an effort to collect monies from the taxpayer.

You should not ignore a summons because a federal court may find and hold you in contempt or, worse, you may be subject to criminal prosecution for a failure to obey a summons. If you fail to comply with a summons the IRS may petition the Federal District Court to enforce the summons. The IRS must establish that (1) the investigation will be conducted pursuant to a legitimate purpose; (2) the inquiry may be relevant to that purpose; (3) the information sought is not already in the IRS’ possession; and (4) the administrative steps required under the Internal Revenue Code have been followed. If the IRS does so you will have to contest the summons. You can contest a summons on substantive grounds, technical or procedural grounds, or on Constitutional or other privilege grounds. Substantive defenses typically include arguments over whether a particular matter is part of a legitimate investigation, or whether the persons or documents summoned are relevant to an IRS investigation. Technical or procedural defenses usually are not worth litigating because the IRS can simply issue another summons to correct the procedural errors. You can also assert privileges under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the US Constitution to prevent the summons from being enforced. These rights and privileges are asserted where the information sought is incriminating and protected from disclosure under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, or where the summons itself is so broad that it constitutes an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

If you receive a IRS summons you should contact Gregory J. Spadea at 610-521-0604 of Spadea & Associates, LLC in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania. Mr. Spadea worked for the IRS for over 13 years and has extensive experience responding to the IRS and will determine when, and on what basis, you might refuse to answer the questions. Mr. Spadea will also help you evaluate which documents are relevant and, more importantly, which documents should be produced.

Preparing for the IRS Trust Fund Recovery Penalty Interview

Stop, pay your taxes!

If you fail to pay over the federal employment tax you withhold from your employees’ salaries the IRS will eventually come knocking on your door. This problem generally occurs when a business runs short of cash to pay both operating expenses and payroll. There may be enough cash to pay vendors and pay net payroll, but not enough to pay the federal government the employer and employee withholding taxes. Employer withholding taxes are 7.65% of gross payroll which consists of 6.2% social security tax and 1.45% medicare tax. The employee withholding consists of federal income tax and state income withheld in addition to the 6.2% social security tax and 1.45% medicare tax.

When the quarterly 941 federal employment tax return is filed with the IRS, the Government gives the employee credit for the tax withheld listed on the quarterly 941 returns whether the employer pays over the employer and employee withholdings or not. That is why the tax withholdings are called trust fund taxes because the employer is holding the money in trust for the federal government. The funds do not belong to the employer and if the employer uses the money for something else he is in essence stealing from the federal government.

If you fail to pay over the employer tax withholding every month or quarter a Revenue Officer will show up at your business unexpectedly and want to interview you. You should hire a tax attorney before speaking with the Revenue Officer. I have handled many trust fund recovery interviews and have been able to reduce the proposed assessments dramatically if I was involved before the IRS Form 4180 interview took place. IRS Form 4180 is the form the Revenue Officer completes during the interview. The Revenue Officer will try to determine if you are the responsible party by asking:

  1. Did you make deposits or sign the business checks;
  2. Did you determine what bills were paid;
  3. Did you have ability to hire and fire employees;
  4. Did you sign the federal employment and income tax returns;
  5. Did you sign loans on behalf of the business;
  6. Were you involved in the day to day operations of the business;
  7. Did you make or authorize payment of federal tax deposits.

If the Revenue Officer determines that you are the responsible party he will issue Form 2751 which is a Proposed Assessment of the Trust Fund Penalty. I will help you determine If you do not agree with the proposed liability you can submit an appeal request within 60 days of the issuance of the notice. If the case is not resolved in IRS Appeals you can file a complaint in federal district court.

If a Revenue Officer does call or visit your business, please call Gregory J. Spadea of Spadea & Associates, LLC at 610-521-0604, in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.

What Happens to Your Debts When You Die?

When you die, your executor has responsibility to pay all your remaining debts if your estate has enough probate assets to pay them. Probate assets are assets that were in your name alone and pass by your will. Before your executor pays any creditors he or she must first pay the estate administration expenses such as funeral costs, grave marker, probate fees, medical bills, attorney fees and rent for the previous six months prior to your death. After the administrative expenses are paid, the secured creditors are paid and any probate assets remaining will go to pay unsecured creditors.

If the estate is not solvent, and a creditor is paid more than he is entitled to receive, the executor can be held personally responsible to the extent of the overpayment. The executor also may be personally liable if he or she distributes estate property without having given proper notice to those having a claim against the estate.

As a general rule, debt collectors may not try to collect from your heirs. However, there are several exceptions. The first exception is if an heir was a co-signer of a particular debt in which case they would be responsible for that debt or if someone held property jointly with you, they would be responsible for any debts on the joint property. The third exception is if an heir inherits a car or a boat that had an outstanding loan, they would have to pay the loan off or the car or boat would be repossessed by the lender.

Creditors cannot be paid from any assets that pass directly to a beneficiary. Assets that pass directly to a beneficiary are called non-probate assets and include jointly owned bank accounts and any account or life insurance policy with a named beneficiary. Therefore a jointly held bank account would pass directly to the joint owner, and the funds in that account could not be used to pay creditors. Similarly, life insurance policies pass directly to the beneficiaries, so creditors do not have access to those funds. In addition creditors cannot access funds held in an irrevocable trust.

A debt collector may not contact your heirs or relatives to try to collect payment unless they were co-signers of the debt or the debt was a jointly owned debt. Debt collectors are allowed to contact the executor of your estate, or your spouse, or your parents if you were a minor, to discuss the debts but may not discuss the debts with anyone else.

Contact Gregory J. Spadea

If you have any questions or need help probating an estate please contact Gregory J. Spadea at 610-521-0604 of Spadea & Associates, LLC in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.

Probating a Pennsylvania Estate

Probating estates is also referred to as estate administration which is the process of managing and distributing a person’s probate property after their death. If the person had a will, the will goes through probate, which is the process by which the deceased person’s property is passed to his or her heirs and legatees (people named in the will). The entire process usually takes about 18 months. However, distributions from the estate can be made in the interim.

Here we set out the steps the surviving family members should take. These responsibilities ultimately fall on whoever was appointed executor in the deceased family member’s will. You should meet with an attorney to review the steps necessary to administer the decedent’s estate. Bring as much information as possible about assets, taxes and debts. Estate administration in Pennsylvania include the following steps:

  1. 1. Filing the original will and Death Certificate at the County Register of Wills in order to be appointed executor. You will take an oath, sign the petition and pay a probate fee to get the letters testamentary issued to you appointing you as executor. In the absence of a will, heirs must petition the court to be appointed administrator of the estate and may have to post a bond.
  2. 2. Giving formal notice to all the beneficiaries named in the will, and then filing a report with the Register of Wills.
  3. 3. Collecting all the assets. This means that you have to find out everything the deceased owned. You need to file a list, known as an Inventory with the Register of Wills within nine months of the date of death. You will also need to open an estate bank account to consolidate all the estate funds. Bills and bequests should be paid from the estate bank account, so that you can keep track of all expenditures.
  4. 4. Paying the federal estate tax if applicable and Pennsylvania inheritance taxes. If the estate was over $5,490,000 then a federal estate tax return needs to be filed for 2017. If any assets pass to anyone other than the spouse you need to file a Pennsylvania inheritance tax return. If you prepay the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax within three months of the date of the death you receive a 5% discount. The Pennsylvania inheritance tax return is due nine months after the date of death, but you can apply for a six month extension to file the return.

    5. Filing final income tax returns. You must also file a final federal and Pennsylvania income tax return for the decedent for the year of death. If the estate holds any assets and earns over $600 of interest or dividends, or over $600 from sales of property a fiduciary income tax return for the estate will need to also be filed.

    6. Paying the administrative expenses and all the debts of the estate. The estate needs to pay for the funeral, probate fees, attorney fees and other administrative expenses first. The secured creditors are paid next, and then the unsecured creditors are paid with whatever is left. If creditors are not paid in the proper order, the executor may be held personally liable for the estate’s debts.

    7. Filing a Disclaimer with the Orphan’s Court within 9 months of the date of death.

    8. Distributing property to the heirs and beneficiaries. Generally, executors do not pay out all of the estate assets until after all the known creditors are paid, and the period runs out for other creditors to make claims.

  5. 9. Notifying the Pennsylvania Attorney General for any specific bequests over $25,000 or any bequests paid as percentage of the estate or any charitable bequests that will not be made.
  6. 10. Filing an informal final account. The executor must file an informal final account with all the beneficiaries listing any income to the estate since the date of death and all expenses and estate distributions. Once the beneficiaries sign a receipt and release approving the informal final account, the executor can distribute whatever is left in the reserve, close the estate bank account and file a status report with the Register of Wills.

If you need help probating an estate please contact Gregory J. Spadea of Spadea & Associates, LLC at 610-521-0604.

Probating estates is also referred to as estate administration which is the process of managing and distributing a person’s probate property after their death. If the person had a will, the will goes through probate, which is the process by which the deceased person’s property is passed to his or her heirs and legatees (people named in the will). The entire process usually takes about 18 months. However, distributions from the estate can be made in the interim.

Here we set out the steps the surviving family members should take. These responsibilities ultimately fall on whoever was appointed executor in the deceased family member’s will. You should meet with an attorney to review the steps necessary to administer the decedent’s estate. Bring as much information as possible about assets, taxes and debts. Estate administration in Pennsylvania include the following steps:

  • 1. Filing the original will and Death Certificate at the County Register of Wills in order to be appointed executor. You will take an oath, sign the petition and pay a probate fee to get the letters testamentary issued to you appointing you as executor. In the absence of a will, heirs must petition the court to be appointed administrator of the estate and may have to post a bond.
  • 2. Giving formal notice to all the beneficiaries named in the will, and then filing a report with the Register of Wills.
  • 3. Collecting all the assets. This means that you have to find out everything the deceased owned. You need to file a list, known as an Inventory with the Register of Wills within nine months of the date of death. You will also need to open an estate bank account to consolidate all the estate funds. Bills and bequests should be paid from the estate bank account, so that you can keep track of all expenditures.
  • 4. Paying the federal estate tax if applicable and Pennsylvania inheritance taxes. If the estate was over $5,490,000 then a federal estate tax return needs to be filed for 2017. If any assets pass to anyone other than the spouse you need to file a Pennsylvania inheritance tax return. If you prepay the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax within three months of the date of the death you receive a 5% discount. The Pennsylvania inheritance tax return is due nine months after the date of death, but you can apply for a six month extension to file the return.

    5. Filing final income tax returns. You must also file a final federal and Pennsylvania income tax return for the decedent for the year of death. If the estate holds any assets and earns over $600 of interest or dividends, or over $600 from sales of property a fiduciary income tax return for the estate will need to also be filed.

    6. Paying the administrative expenses and all the debts of the estate. The estate needs to pay for the funeral, probate fees, attorney fees and other administrative expenses first. The secured creditors are paid next, and then the unsecured creditors are paid with whatever is left. If creditors are not paid in the proper order, the executor may be held personally liable for the estate’s debts.

    7. Filing a Disclaimer with the Orphan’s Court within 9 months of the date of death.

    8. Distributing property to the heirs and beneficiaries. Generally, executors do not pay out all of the estate assets until after all the known creditors are paid, and the period runs out for other creditors to make claims.

  • 9. Notifying the Pennsylvania Attorney General for any specific bequests over $25,000 or any bequests paid as percentage of the estate or any charitable bequests that will not be made.
  • 10. Filing an informal final account. The executor must file an informal final account with all the beneficiaries listing any income to the estate since the date of death and all expenses and estate distributions. Once the beneficiaries sign a receipt and release approving the informal final account, the executor can distribute whatever is left in the reserve, close the estate bank account and file a status report with the Register of Wills.

If you need help probating an estate please contact Gregory J. Spadea of Spadea & Associates, LLC at 610-521-0604.

Is My Property Exempt From Pennsylvania Real Estate Tax?

A house

If you own a property that is regularly used by a charity or falls into one of the 8 categories below you may be exempt from paying real estate tax. To qualify for an exemption your property must be:

  1. Zoned in your Current Municipality for a Real Estate Tax Exemption
  2. An actual place of regular religious worship;
  3. A non-profit burial place;
  4. Property used regularly for public purposes;
  5. Owned Occupied and used by any branch or post of honorably discharged service persons and regularly used for charitable or patriotic purposes;
  6. Actually and regularly used by an institution of purely public or private charity for the purpose of the institution;
  7. A Hospital or institution of learning (schools) or charity including fire and rescue station founded and maintained by public or private charity; or
  8. A Public Library, museum, art gallery or concert music hall provided and maintained by public or private charity.

If your organization falls into any one of the seven categories listed above you can apply for an exemption from real estate tax in the county you are located. If you have any questions call Spadea & Associates, LLC at 610-521-0604.

Police Cannot Search The Digital Information on a Cell Phone Without A Warrant

One hand holding a smartphone.

On June 25, 2014, the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision, ruled that police may not, without a search warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested. The Court settled two conflicting cases Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie. In the Riley case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the search of the cell phone was permissible as a valid search incident to arrest, as it was “immediately associated” with his “person” when he was arrested. Because the cell phone was on Riley’s person when he was arrested, the police were justified in performing a full search incident to his arrest. In the Wurie case the First Circuit Court of Appeals held that warrantless cell phone data searches are unlawful under the search incident to arrest exception. It noted that the government failed to demonstrate that a cell phone search under such circumstances was necessary to promote officer safety or prevent the destruction of evidence. The fact that the officers had Wurie’s keys and his cell phone which they used to locate and enter his apartment without a warrant to “freeze” it while they obtained a search warrant was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court in reviewing both cases indicated that the search incident to arrest exception to the Fourth amendment warrant requirement is inaccurate because warrantless searches incident to arrest occur with far greater frequency than searches conducted pursuant to a warrant. The opinion then laid out a discussion of the handful of Supreme Court precedent in the search incident to arrest area, beginning with the seminal case limiting the scope of a search incident to arrest, Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752 (1969) (disallowing the search of an arrestee’s home even where he is arrested therein), and United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218 (1973) (permitting the search of a cigarette pack found on the arrestee’s person at the time of arrest). The Supreme Court applied a balancing test for warrantless searches, which compares the degree to which a warrantless search intrudes upon an individual’s privacy versus the degree to which the warrantless search is needed for the promotion of legitimate governmental interests, the opinion discussed the difference between the search of digital information contained in a cell phone and the search of physical objects like the cigarette pack in the Robinson case. The Court then discussed the two rationales weighing in favor of permitting a search incident to arrest established in the Chimel case and followed in the Wurie case, to promote officer safety or prevent the destruction of evidence. As for the need to uncover and disarm weapons from a defendant, the court held that law enforcement officers are still free to search the physical aspects of a cell phone to make sure there are no physical threats. However, the digital information contained with a cell phone poses no physical danger to a police officer. Then, as for the interest of preventing the destruction of evidence, the Court held that there is not much of a threat of this, and that there are reasonable, cost-effective options available to law enforcement which can ensure that data will not be lost if they thereafter choose to apply for a search warrant.

Contact Our Office

If you are ever arrested or have your cell phone confiscated by police call Gregory J. Spadea of Spadea & Associates, LLC at 610-521-0604, located in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.

Wrongful Death Proceeds Are Not Subject to Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax or Federal Income Tax

The Pennsylvania Wrongful Death statute allows the personal representative of an estate to bring an action for the benefit of a decedent’s spouse, children or parents to recover damages for the death of the decedent caused by the wrongful act, neglect, unlawful violence of another. The statute entitles a plaintiff to recover damages for pain and suffering, loss of earning power, medical and hospital bills, funeral expenses and certain estate administration expenses.

Wrongful death proceeds are not taxable for Pennsylvania Inheritance purposes or for federal income tax purposes. On the other hand survival action proceeds are subject to Pennsylvania inheritance tax. Since Pennsylvania taxes survival actions but not wrongful death actions, you, through your attorney want to maximize the wrongful death recovery amount. The court tends to allocate the proceeds of wrongful death actions and survival actions based upon the facts of the case and the evidence presented by your attorney.

Under the Pennsylvania Probate, Estate and Fiduciary code the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is an interested party in any orphan’s court proceeding. Therefore your attorney must get written consent from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue regarding the proposed allocation since its interests will be adversely affected by the amount allocated to the wrongful death action.

Survival Actions are valued at the decedent’s date of death for Pennsylvania Inheritance tax purposes. Any unpaid Inheritance tax is due within thirty days after the estate receives the proceeds. If there is any tax due beyond thirty days the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue begins charging interest on the unpaid balance which is currently 6%.

Contact Gregory J. Spadea

If you have a question about a wrongful death action or survival action please contact Spadea & Associates, LLC online or at 610-521-0604, located in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.

Bail Requirements in Pennsylvania

Money and a gavel

If you get arrested please remember my silence is golden rule – do not give any statements or speak to anyone without your attorney present. Do not even discuss the facts of the case over the phone with your family, since most conversations in a correctional facility are recorded. Do not apologize, express regret or anything that makes you sound guilty.

It normally takes 24 to 48 hours for the District Justice in the town you were arrested in to set bail. Bail will be based on the severity of the crime, the number of counts and if this is your first offense. If the District Justice reviews all the factors above and finds that you have no criminal record and you are neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, the District Justice may release you on a personal recognizance bond. That means you are released on your signature.

The specific purpose of a bond is to assure that you appear at court and answer the charges. A District Justice may consider “the nature and circumstances of the charges, the weight of the evidence, the history and characteristics of the putative offender and the danger to the community.” U.S. v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739 (1987). Prior criminal history and your personal characteristics are the most important factors the District Justice uses to set the bail amount. Your prior criminal history is going to involve anything you have ever been arrested for. It doesn’t matter if you were a juvenile or if it happened in another state. The District Justice can review anything that may help in determining if you are a danger to the community. When examining the characteristics of a defendant, the judge will want to know if you have a job, and how long have you been working for that employer. Do you own a home or rent? Are you married? Do you have any children? Where did you go to high school? What are your ties to the community? In other words, how much skin do you have in the game and how much will you lose if you decide to run? The judge will weigh all these factors to determine how high the bond will be. Obviously, the more serious the crime, the higher the bond.

You may not be entitled to bail if you are already on probation or parole for another offense. Probation is court supervision in lieu of incarceration. Parole is early release from prison for good behavior. In both cases, committing a new offense is considered a new violation. Under these conditions you may be given a bond on the new violation but may be held with no bond on the old offense since you violated the condition s of your probation or parole. However, your lawyer may be able to persuade the District Justice for a bond on the old case based on your specific facts and circumstances.

Immigration status is another factor that may affect your ability to get a bond. If you are not a U.S. citizen, Immigration and Customs Enforcement may place a detainer on you until your case is adjudicated. This includes legal permanent residents who are in the United States with a valid visa or green card. If you are arrested or have any questions about bail, please call Gregory J. Spadea at 610-521-0604 of Spadea & Associates, LLC in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.

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