Devon, PA asked in Estate Planning for Pennsylvania

Q: Hello, my mother has a 401 k with Fidelity. She passed away without a will and I need some kind of small estate

document in order to collect funds but I don't know exactly what I need. My mom did not own a home or have any assets can someone give me a clear answer on what I need to do and please talk in layman's terms so I can understand please.

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1 Lawyer Answer
Michael Cherewka
Michael Cherewka
  • Estate Planning Lawyer
  • Wormleysburg, PA
  • Licensed in Pennsylvania

A: Since your mother had a 401k plan, she should have designated you as beneficiary (or one of several beneficiaries) to receive the account. If she did not designate at least one beneficiary, then your mother died Intestate (without a will) and Fidelity is describing a Small Estates Petition in order to permit you to open an estate for your mother so you can get access to the 401k account. Or you (from your short question I am assuming there is no surviving spouse and that you have no siblings) can open an estate administration as the sole surviving heir and be granted Letters of Administration to permit you to get access to the 401k account. While Small Estates Petitions are supposed to be quicker and less complicated than regular estate administrations, in practice in most cases that is not the case, particularly if only dealing with one account like a 401k plan. I would recommend you meet with an estate attorney and determine which process would be quicker and easier for you to understand and administer. In addition to opening an estate, you will have PA Inheritance Taxes to file, and also income tax issues on the 401k plan, so you are not likely going to want to try this without legal assistance.

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