You've been named as a Personal Representative (commonly known as an Executor or Administrator) to administer the estate of someone who died. What do you do and where do you start? This article is intended to give you a brief overview of your responsibilities.
Initially, you need to file a petition for the probate of the will (or the grant of letters of administration if there is no will) with the Register of Wills of the County where the decedent resided.
Once the Orphan's Court of the County in which the decedent resided has officially appointed you as the Estate's Executor or Administrator, your authority to act as such is set forth in a document called "Letters Testamentary" (for estates with a Will) or "Letters of Administration" (for estates without a Will). Your work as the estate's Executor or Administrator has now officially begun.
Some of your responsibilities will include:
1. Collect all property owned by the decedent at the time of death.
2. Contract the services of an appraiser(s) to perform the required appraisals for real and personal property.
3. Pay all valid claims from creditors in accordance with the terms of the applicable Will or intestate laws.
4. File the inheritance tax return and all required income tax returns within the time frame the law dictates and pay the taxes thereon.
5. Distribute the net assets to the beneficiaries according to the terms of an accounting or Family Settlement Agreement.
The following are some questions that we are frequently asked:
1. Am I required to accept the appointment as an Executor?
Keep in mind that just because you have been appointed as an Executor does not mean you have to accept. You may renounce your appointment and the alternate Executor appointed in the decedent's Will becomes the Executor. If there is no Will, an Administrator will be appointed.
2. As an executor or an administrator am I personally liable for the debts of the decedent?
As long as the executor or administrator properly administers the estate according to the law, he or she will not be held personally liable for any debts owed by the decedent.
3. Am I entitled to compensation for acting as an Executor/Administrator?
Yes, you are entitled to reasonable compensation. The amount of the compensation is determined by the amount of work you performed as an Executor/Administrator. Keep in mind that whatever compensation you receive from the Estate will be subject to income tax because it is income you earned. The amount of your fee is subject to review by the Court.
4. How long will it take for the Estate to be completed?
Although there is no definite answer to this question, the average estate administration takes approximately one year. Some estates may be concluded is less time and some estates may take longer. In most cases, the size of the estate and the type of assets in the estate dictate the time frame. Inheritance taxes are due 9 months after the date of death.
6. Do I need the assistance of an attorney to administer this Estate?
There is no legal requirement that you must contract the services of an attorney to help you administer an Estate. However, it is good common sense. Few people have the legal knowledge or experience to properly administer an estate. Even experienced Executors usually hire an attorney. As an Executor/Administrator you may be held personally responsible if you fail to properly handle the estate or pay taxes. It is generally in your best interest and the best interest of the beneficiaries of the Estate to hire an experienced lawyer to help you through the process.
This article was developed to give you an overview of your responsibilities as an Executor/Administrator in Pennsylvania, and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. The duties of an Executor/Administrator are not limited to the responsibilities set forth in this article.