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What Are The Executor’s or Estate Administrator’s Responsibilities Under The Inheritance Laws In Pennsylvania?

What happens when someone passes away in Pennsylvania without a will?  And what does the appointed estate administrator need to do as part of their responsibilities? In Pennsylvania, as in other states, the interplay between inheritance laws and the role of the administrator is a crucial aspect of the probate and estate administration process.

Understanding Pennsylvania’s Intestacy Laws

Inheritance laws in Pennsylvania, also known as intestacy laws, determine how to distribute the decedent’s estate if an individual dies without a will (intestate). These laws specify the order in which relatives inherit from the estate, starting with the closest kin, such as spouses and children, and moving on to more distant relatives if necessary. (20 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 2102; 2103 (2023).)

If there had been a will, the will typically dictates the distribution of the estate, subject to Pennsylvania’s legal requirements.

If there is no will, the executor or estate administrator (hereafter referred to generically as the “personal representative”) is appointed to manage the decedent’s estate through the probate process. If the decedent left a will, they likely named an executor in that document. If not, or if the named executor cannot or will not serve, the probate court will appoint someone, typically a close family member.

Responsibilities of Personal Representatives

The interplay between inheritance laws and the personal representative’s responsibilities is as follows:

  • Probate Process: The personal representative is responsible for initiating the probate process, which includes proving the will’s validity (if there is one), taking inventory of the estate’s assets, and paying any debts and taxes the estate owes.
  • Abiding by Laws: During the probate process, the personal representative must follow Pennsylvania’s inheritance laws, which means distributing the estate according to the state intestacy laws.
  • Fiduciary Duty: Personal representatives in Pennsylvania have a fiduciary duty to act in the estate’s and its beneficiaries’ best interests. Until the estate is ready for distribution, the personal representative must manage the estate’s assets responsibly, which could include running a business, maintaining or selling real estate, and investing funds. The personal representative must pay all debts and taxes before distributing the remaining assets to the rightful heirs according to the will or state law. If personal representatives fail to perform their duties properly, they can be held personally liable to the beneficiaries or creditors of the estate.
  • Final Accounting: The personal representative must provide a final accounting to the court and the beneficiaries, detailing how the estate’s assets were managed and distributed. This step ensures transparency and allows beneficiaries to understand how the estate was settled.
  • Inheritance Taxes: Pennsylvania has an inheritance tax, which varies based on the beneficiary’s relationship to the decedent. The personal representative is responsible for paying the correct amount of inheritance tax from the estate before distributing the remaining assets.

The interplay between inheritance laws and the estate administrator’s duties is designed to ensure that the state’s intestacy laws are honored in the absence of a will and that the estate is settled in an orderly and lawful manner. Personal representatives must navigate this process with care and diligence, respecting both the legal requirements and the interests of the estate’s beneficiaries.

Contact Our Estate Planning Attorney for Assistance

It is essential for personal representatives to understand their responsibilities and to seek professional advice if needed, as handling an estate can involve complex legal and financial issues. Let Jones Gregg Creehan & Gerace help you navigate the estate planning rules in Pennsylvania and ensure that the estate is handled correctly if the decedent had executed no will. Contact us today.