All too often, people create their Wills and name a personal representative (the Executor) without speaking with the people the name.  This can lead to an executor who is underprepared and overwhelmed by the responsibilities they face.  No one can be forced to serve as an executor.  Moreover, if a person is named in a will and doesn’t wish to act, they can sign a “renunciation” and decline to serve.  When a person renounces, the next person named in the document will serve.  If no one else named in the document, the Register of Wills will decide who to appoint.

What Does an Executor Do?

Executors are personally responsible for the proper management of the estate.  This includes ensuring the payment of all valid debts and taxes, and making sure that the beneficiaries receive their inheritance.  If estate representative does not properly fulfill their duties, the court can hold them personally and financially responsible.  Understanding the responsibilities of executor is essential before accepting the responsibility.

Marshalling Assets

Everything from cash to bank accounts to real estate must be located, secured, and either sold or distributed to the beneficiaries.  The timing of the sale of assets can be extremely important.  Waiting too long to sell stocks could lead to losses in value.  Furthermore, estate requires maintenance and insurance and should be sold or distributed as quickly as possible.  Failing to properly secure assets could lead to the executor being held financially responsible for any loss.

Paying Valid Debts

Pennsylvania requires that the executor pay all valid debts, but what are considered “valid debts?”  The answer can depend on timing, among other factors.  Paying debts too early or in the wrong order can also lead to financial liability for the executor.  Understanding what steps are required to inform creditors and to do so quickly is essential and could save the estate thousands of dollars.

Accounting for Assets and Expenses

The estate representative is expected to account for every cent that is found, spent, and distributed by the executor.  Proper records, including receipts, invoices, check copies, and bank statements are necessary to prove to beneficiaries that the estate was properly handled and could be required if a formal accounting is required by the court.  Failure to properly account for all assets, income, and expenses can also lead to the executor being held responsible.

Final Thoughts

This articles is just a short introduction to the many expectations of an executor.  If you are considering naming someone as executor in your Will, make sure they are aware of the responsibilities they are agreeing to undertake.  If you have been named in someone’s will and are unsure where to begin, contact our office today.  Our Probate Attorneys are experienced in the probate process and will ensure the estate is properly handled and that the executor is protected from potential liability.

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