Executors are fiduciaries, meaning they have a responsibility to take care of assets and distribute property according to a will maker's wishes. If a deceased person did not leave a will, the person appointed to fulfill the executor's role is called a personal representative. In Pennsylvania, executors administer estates through the Register of Wills in the county where the decedent lived.
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Probating a Will
If the decedent made a will and the executor knows where the decedent kept the original will, the executor may submit the will to the Register of Wills. If the will is accepted as valid, the Register of Wills will provide the executor with his "letters testamentary." Letters testamentary give the executor authority to act on behalf of the estate. When an executor is given a "grant of letters," he has the authority to make financial transactions, such as accessing the decedent's bank account and paying bills.
Assets, Debts and Inventory
One of an executor's first orders of business is to gather as much information as possible regarding the deceased person's assets and debts and prepare an inventory. Once information about assets and debts is gathered, the executor must estimate how much of the assets will be needed to pay the decedent's taxes and debts. This information should be listed in the inventory. In Pennsylvania, an executor has six months from the date of the decedent's death to file the inventory with the Register of Wills.
Notifying Creditors and Heirs
In Pennsylvania, as in other states, an executor is responsible for notifying the decedent's creditors and heirs by advertising his grant of letters. An executor may advertise his grant of letters by running a notice in a local newspaper within three months from the date of the decedent's death. An executor is also responsible for sending written notices to heirs or beneficiaries named in the decedent's will within three months from the date of the decedent's death.
Paying Debt and Taxes
Pennsylvania requires executors to file inheritance taxes within nine months of the date of the decedent's death. Moreover, an executor must file a federal estate tax return and other returns if the decedent owned property outside of Pennsylvania. When creditors submit claims, the executor must pay the claims, provided the claims are valid and approved by the Register of Wills.
Distributing the Estate
An executor is responsible for distributing assets to heirs or beneficiaries. Typically, assets are distributed after taxes and debts are paid. However, an executor may make distributions after filing an inventory and receiving approval from the Register of Wills. Once all assets have been distributed and debts and taxes paid, the executor may file a final notice with the Register of Wills.
References & Resources
- Pennsylvania General Assembly: Title 20 - Decedents, Estates and Fiduciaries
- Daniel B. Evans: Pennsylvania Estate Administration Timetable
- City of Philadelphia Register of Wills: Estates: An Overview
- Wolf, Baldwin & Associates, P.C.: Probate and Estate Administration Lawyers in Pennsylvania
- Marshall, Parker & Associates LLC: Estate Administration in Pennsylvania
- Daniel B. Evans: Pa. O.C. Rule 5.6 Notice to Beneficiaries and Intestate Heirs