How to Become the Executor of a Deceased Relative's Estate in Pennsylvania?

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In the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the only way an individual or another entity can be the executor of an estate is to be named in someone’s last will and testament. If there is no will, the court will assign a party, known as an administrator, to do this job. Despite their different names, an executor and an administrator essentially have the same duties.

Who Can Be an Executor in Pennsylvania?

To be an executor of an estate named in a will, a person needs to be at least 18 years old and of sound mind.

In other words, a court has not judged them to be incapacitated. While many states do not allow those with felonies to be executors, Pennsylvania does.

Unlike many other states, Pennsylvania allows individuals living out of state to be named as an executor of a decedent’s estate. According to state law, a person living in another state is prohibited from being an executor only if the court sends a letter of refusal to that person.

Corporations as Executors

Corporations can be named in a will as executors but must have the authority to act as a fiduciary, which is an entity in an ethical or legal relationship of trust with at least one party.

The fiduciary must always work in the interest of the represented party, which in this instance is the decedent. Banks often act as executors when there is a large, complex estate.

Who Cannot Be an Executor in Pennsylvania?

Not everyone named as executor can become one. Pennsylvania law has restrictions on who can serve in this role. Certain individuals can be prevented from serving as executor, even when named in a decedent’s will or who otherwise have priority to serve.

Those prohibited from being executors are:

  • Persons under 18 years old.
  • Corporations without authorization to act as fiduciaries in Pennsylvania.
  • Individual found to be unfit.
  • Beneficiary nominee or estate heir outside of the United States.
  • Individual charged with homicide or voluntary manslaughter in connection with the death of the decedent (with the exception of homicide by vehicle.) If the charges are dismissed, withdrawn, or the individual found not guilty in court, they may become an executor.

Process for Becoming an Executor

The executor must submit the will to the county register of wills where the decedent lived. The register of wills then issues Letters Testamentary, which allow the executor to become the estate representative.

Letters Testamentary are quickly advertised to give notice to possible creditors. The register of wills also gives the executor short certificates, that show they are the executor. These may be used to conduct the estate’s business in various ways, and they are typically accepted for 60 to 90 days.

What Are the Executor’s Responsibilities?

An executor’s role is to carry out the will’s provisions and oversee the estate's property. As a personal representative of the estate, the executor has a legal duty to protect and maintain all assets of the estate for the beneficiaries.

A person in this role must locate and collect the deceased person’s assets; make sure their debts and taxes are paid with money from the estate; and distribute what’s left to the will’s beneficiaries. They can hire a lawyer or an accountant to help them carry out these duties.

Some specific examples of these tasks include:

  • Obtaining the decedent's death certificate.
  • Starting the process of probate.
  • Filing paperwork in court.
  • Contacting the estate’s beneficiaries.

Probate Process When There Is No Will

If the deceased did not leave a will, their estate is termed intestate. This means that the Pennsylvania probate court decides how the decedent’s assets will be distributed. A will that is not valid can also cause the estate to be intestate.

When there is no will, or when there is a will and the person named in it can't serve, the court appoints an estate administrator through an order of people who can serve as the estate’s personal representatives. They are in the following order:

  • Individuals entitled to the residuary estate, per the decedent’s will.
  • The surviving spouse.
  • Those entitled to receive the decedent’s assets according to intestate law

the register of wills determines who will best administer the estate and gives preference to share size. The principal creditors of the decedent. Other fit individuals. If anyone above renounces their right to Letters of Administration, a party nominated by that person may be appointed by the register of wills. A support agency that serves as an incapacitated individual's guardian when that person dies during the guardianship. * A public redevelopment authority known as Urban Redevelopment Law

Process for Becoming an Administrator of the Estate

The process an estate administrator follows is not much different from that of an executor. The register of wills issues Letters of Administration, which allow the administrator to become the estate representative.

Letters of Administration are advertised to give notice to potential creditors of the estate. The register of wills gives the administrator short certificates to conduct the estate’s business and access the decedent's assets, such as bank accounts and property.

They are the administrator's proof that they have been appointed by the court to administer the affairs of the deceased.

When Does the Personal Representative’s Job End?

When the personal representative has completed all of their tasks short of distributing the estate’s assets to beneficiaries, they must file final Pennsylvania inheritance tax returns and state and federal estate tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service and the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue.

At the conclusion of the estate’s administration, the personal representative files a Status Report with the register of wills and includes any release documents signed by beneficiaries stating that they accept the distribution and agree to refund them if obligations of the estate are later discovered.

After the representative distributes all of the estate assets to the beneficiaries, the personal representative’s job is complete.

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