The executor’s first duty is to gather and secure the estate’s assets. Finding all of the assets may not be easy. Some decedents keep no records/some keep too many. There may be no immediate cash available for expenses. Real estate may have been abandoned or be in disrepair, or trespassers may have moved in. Insurance might lapse, and the executor should secure a new policy. The executor could be personally liable if uninsured property is damaged.
The executor is free to hire professionals to help with this process. Realtors, accountants, and an estate attorney can all help reduce the executor’s liability by making sure there are no overlooked assets. Professionals may also advise the executor not to claim, or to abandon, certain assets.
Next, the executor will need to determine whether there are unpaid creditors with valid claims against the Estate, and then pay them if there are sufficient assets. Pennsylvania has rules about creditor notification. As executor you should quickly act to start the statute of limitations. Pennsylvania gives creditors one year to make a claim after the executor gives proper notice. The Estate Attorney can help make sure the clock starts, so the executor doesn’t mistakenly allow creditors more time. Pennsylvania also has rules for priority of creditors when the Estate does not have sufficient funds to pay all creditors.
Finally, the Will dictates who receives the estate. The executor is responsible for maximizing what passes to beneficiaries. But, before releasing the funds, we recommend that an executor should always insist on a full release. The executor should have his or her Estate Attorney draft and get the necessary releases signed by the beneficiaries prior to making any distributions.