Pittsburgh Estate Executor Attorney

Middle-aged woman signing documents

When creating a last will and testament, estate planners should appoint an executor or personal representative to manage their estate and distribute their assets to their beneficiaries. The estate planning process can be complex. Do you have questions about appointing an estate executor in your will, or have you been appointed executor and need legal assistance? You aren’t alone. 

The estate planning attorneys at Jones, Gregg, Creehan & Gerace LLP have an in-depth understanding of Pennsylvania probate laws. We can help you answer your questions and understand your rights and responsibilities. Navigating the probate process as an estate executor can be smoother with the help of an experienced attorney.

What Does an Estate Executor Do in Pennsylvania?

An estate planner, a personal representative in Pennsylvania, protects your estate and oversees the probate process. The personal representative is responsible for paying the debts and taxes on the estate. After the debts have been settled, the estate executor oversees the transfer of the remaining assets to your chosen beneficiaries. 

Most people appoint an estate executor or personal representative in their last will and testament. When a person dies without a will, the probate court will appoint an executor to oversee his or her estate. 

When a person sets up a living trust, the assets owned by the trust are distributed according to the trust agreement. The person who creates the trust can appoint trustees. Trustees are responsible for managing the assets in the trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries. Although trustees and estate executors have many of the same legal responsibilities, these are considered two separate roles.

Choosing an Estate Executor 

Choosing an estate executor is important in creating a comprehensive estate plan. The person you select will significantly impact how the probate process is handled. 

Choosing someone you trust is crucial. Most people choose a relative, a friend, a spouse, or an adult child to be their executors. 

Working with an experienced attorney who understands the ins and outs of the probate process can help you choose a state executor you can depend on. A good starting point is to think of friends or loved ones who are dependable, responsible, and who would be willing to take on the role of an estate executor. You will need to appoint someone trustworthy and honest. Depending on your circumstances, appointing an attorney or another professional as your estate executor may be beneficial, especially if you have a complex or high-value estate. 

Who Can Act As an Estate Executor?

Under Pennsylvania law, the estate executor must be 18 or older and of a sound mind. When an estate executor has been appointed but cannot or will not act as an executor, most people will include an alternate.

The Duties of an Estate Executor

Estate executors are legally responsible for performing specific duties to settle the estate in Pennsylvania probate court. They must pay the debts and taxes the estate owes. They will also need to determine the value of the assets and the estate. They may need to hire appraisers to value the decedent’s real property and personal property carefully. They must distribute the remaining assets according to the decedent’s wishes, as stated in his or her last will and testament.

The Probate Process in Pennsylvania

Executors are required to follow Pennsylvania probate law when carrying out their duties. The executor must submit the decedent’s will to the register of wills in the county where the decedent resided before his or her death. If the probate court determines that the will is legally valid, the register of wills will issue the letters testamentary. 

The letters testamentary is an official document giving the estate executor the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of the estate. For example, the estate executor must provide copies of the letters testamentary to the decedent’s bank or banks and local, state, and federal tax authorities to provide the testator is authorized to conduct business on behalf of the decedent.

The Estate Executor Gather Information About the Estate’s Assets

The estate executor needs to gather all of the assets in the estate. He or she must submit an accurate inventory of the assets to the register of wills within nine months of the decedent’s stuff. Depending on the assets in the estate, the executor may need to gather information about them. He or she must gather proof of ownership for any bank accounts, real estate, vehicles, and bonds owned by the decedent. 

Usually, this information will be presented to an appraiser. Shortly after the executor steps into his or her role,  he or she must notify beneficiaries that they have been named in the decedent’s will. If the beneficiaries were left personal property, real estate, or a specific amount of money, the executor will be responsible for distributing those assets. However, before distributing property, the executor must first identify that the estate contains enough assets to pay any taxes or debts. Filing tax returns is another essential legal duty of estate executors.

Disputes Related to Estate Executors

Unfortunately, not all estate executors act competently or ethically. They may misuse the property and the estate or even use the estate’s assets for their gain. They may distribute property to a beneficiary not named in the will. 

In other cases, estate executors fail to carry out their duties, such as filing tax returns and managing the estate’s assets before distribution. If you believe that an estate executor has failed to uphold his or her fiduciary duties, it’s crucial that you reach out to an attorney. You may have a right to file a legal claim against the estate executor.

Get Help from an Experienced Probate Attorney in Pittsburgh

Acting as an estate executor in Pennsylvania can be challenging as the probate process is complex. Whether you need to create a last will and testament and a point executor, or you need assistance carrying out the duties of an executor, don’t hesitate to contact the skilled attorneys at Jones, Gregg, Creehan & Gerace LLP.