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What are the duties of an estate executor?

On Behalf of | Apr 11, 2023 | Probate & Estate Planning |

A Pennsylvania executor is a personal representative of a decedent’s estate, tasked with carrying out a decedent’s last wishes. If the will fails to denote an executor or the named individual declines to accept, the probate court appoints someone, typically a close relative or heir. Estates pay the costs incurred during the settlement process, including a reasonable payment to executors to compensate them for their time and effort.

Initiating probate

The executor’s first step is to obtain multiple copies of the death certificate and file the will with the probate court clerk. This task is one of the easiest your executor may encounter, especially now that many counties provide for swearing executors in by videoconference.

Locating heirs

Even if the will was drafted many years ago, the executor must take all reasonable measures to locate missing heirs. This task might include hiring an investigator and placing notices in newspapers. Good estate planning includes keeping an up-to-date list of heirs and their contact information.

Notifying creditors and other parties

The executor must review existing paperwork and determine if any financial accounts need final payments and closing. Newspaper death notices also serve to alert creditors to a customer’s passing. Probate requires that the estate pays all identified creditors, in a certain order of importance, before the heirs receive a portion of the assets.

Providing death notices to close accounts is the executor’s responsibility. This list might include pension plans, brokerage firms, banks, the Social Security Administration, and the Department of Transportation.

Liquidating the estate

Any non-itemized, high-value assets are typically appraised by professionals and sold by the executor. These may include jewelry, artwork, vehicles, and real estate. Estate sale auctions are a popular way of selling all or part of the contents of a home that the will does not explicitly assign to a beneficiary.

Paying final taxes

The executor must ensure payment of all due state and federal taxes, including a post-mortem federal estate tax for estates valued at more than $12.92 million in 2023. Pennsylvania has no state “death” tax, but it does have inheritance tax. It is not unusual for a well-drafted will to provide for the payment of inheritance taxes as part of the beneficiary’s distribution.

Distributing assets

Once the executor closes out accounts, pays the creditors, and liquidates assets, beneficiaries and heirs receive what is theirs, according to the directions in the will. The executor works with the probate court to handle any disputes that arise.

A consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney will include a discussion about naming a trusted executor in your will. Contact a lawyer to make sure that your wishes are carried out.