An executor is the person or institution responsible for managing the administration of a deceased person’s estate. The executor (sometimes called by other names such as “personal representative”) is usually named in the deceased’s will. A personal representative is appointed by the court if there is no executor or will. One or more individuals can be named as executor. In addition a bank trust department, or trust company may serve.
If you have been named as an executor of 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). The petition is filed with the Register of Wills of the county where the decedent resided. If the petition is granted the Orphan’s Court of the county will officially appoint 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.
As executor, you are responsible for implementing the deceased person’s wishes as expressed in the will and winding-up their affairs. Examples of your responsibilities as executor include:
- Collecting, managing, and securing property owned by the decedent.
- Establishing the value of the decedents assets as of the date of death. This may involve contracting the services of professionals such as appraiser(s) to perform appraisals for real and personal property.
- Paying all valid creditor claims.
- Filing an inheritance tax return and all required income tax returns within the time frames the law dictates and paying the taxes due from the assets of the estate.
- Distributing the net assets to the beneficiaries according to the terms of a court accounting or family settlement agreement.
The following are some questions that we are frequently asked:
- Am I required to accept the appointment as an executor?
Being named as executor does not mean you have to accept the position. You may renounce your appointment. If you renounce, the alternate executor named in the decedent’s will can then become the executor. If there is no alternate executor, an administrator will be appointed.
- 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.
- 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 responsibility you assumed and work you performed as executor/administrator. 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.
- 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 in 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 period. Inheritance taxes are due 9 months after the date of death.
- Do I need to hire an attorney for the estate?
As executor/administrator, you have the authority to hire a lawyer to help administer the estate. There is no legal requirement that you must contract the services of an attorney. However, it is good common sense. Few people have the legal knowledge and 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. An experienced lawyer will help the estate reduce taxes and save money. So, 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.
At Marshall, Parker, and Weber we have represented Executors and Administrators for over 40 years. We know how to take the risks and worries and burdens off of your shoulders. Call us if we can help. 1-800-401-4552.
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.