Finding out that you have been selected to be a family member’s Executor can be both an honor and a huge time commitment. Although each estate administration varies depending on the complexity and issues that may arise, there are certain duties of an Executor that are consistent regardless of those complexities and issues. It is important to understand that an Executor does not have any responsibilities before a death has occurred. Additionally, just because you are named as an Executor in a will does not mean that you have to accept that role. If you do not want to serve as the Executor you can sign a renunciation.
The first step an Executor should take upon a death is to locate the original will of the decedent. The original will is required in order to file a petition for letters testamentary with the county register of wills. This process of filing the petition with the register of wills in the county of the decedent’s last domicile is referred to as probating.
Next the Executor must wait for the death certificate to be issued. Generally the funeral home or crematory assists the family with the application for the death certificate. It is important that the Executor carefully complete the application for the death certificate to make sure that important data is correct, such as the decedent’s Social Security Number, and county of residence. It is also important to make sure that you order enough death certificates, this number varies depending on the assets owned. However, typically ten to fifteen is a sufficient amount.
The Executor must then begin compiling a list of current assets, debts, and expenses. This information is required to determine whether the estate needs to be probated. However, it is important to note that even if the estate does not need to be probated there are still legal requirements that must be met, such as payment of Pennsylvania inheritance tax. This also helps the Executor begin to prioritize expenses that need to be paid.
Once the petition for probate is filed, and the register of wills has issued letters of testamentary, the Executor has many legal duties to fulfill. It is important for the Executor to faithfully carry out these duties, failure to do so may result in personal liability. The Executor must keep the assets of the estate safe and preserve them for the beneficiaries of the estate. The Executor must also value the assets of the decedent by obtaining appraisals and date of death valuations from financial institutions. An example of other tasks that the Executor must complete include, but are not limited to: Advertising the administration of the estate; Mailing notices to the beneficiaries of the will and those required to notice under Pennsylvania law; Applying for an EIN for the Estate; Opening an estate checking account; Filing necessary death tax returns, including the Pennsylvania inheritance tax return; Filing an inventory of assets with the register of wills; and Selling, liquidating, and distributing the assets of the decedent in accordance with the will.
An Executor does not have to complete these tasks on their own. Navigating the complexities of estate administration is not an easy undertaking. An Executor can hire an attorney to assist them with completing these responsibilities. The attorney’s fees are paid from the estate as a general administrative expense.