The Basics of Administering an Estate in Pennsylvania
May 24, 2021

When a person passes away and has assets under their name alone, a personal representative must handle these assets and assign them to beneficiaries to settle the decedent’s wishes.

To open an estate and proceed with this, a personal representative must file a Petition for Grant of Letters and the decedent’s death certificate with the local Register of Wills. It is recommended that they work with estate attorneys in Pennsylvania to prepare the Petition and file it appropriately. The personal representative must also pay a fee to file the Petition, which depends upon the estate’s value.

With this procedure alone, it is clear that overseeing a decedent’s last wishes can be a tedious task. Fortunately, working with an estate attorney can accelerate the process and ensure that every step is done correctly.

Here’s what you need to know about the basics of administering an estate in Pennsylvania, especially if you are the decedent’s personal representative:

Related Post: Estate Planning for Single People

Dying Testate and Probate

 If a decedent passed away testate, this means they prepared a valid Will before their death. The personal representative must file the original Will with the Petition. This process is known as “probate.”

If the Will executed in front of two witnesses and was also notarized, it then becomes “self-proving.” However, if a will isn’t self-proving, two witnesses must demonstrate that the decedent’s signature is legitimate. Once the Will is in probate, the Letters Testamentary will be issued to the personal representative named in the Will. This person is now known as the executor if they are male or executrix if they are female.


Dying Intestate or Without a Will

 If the decedent dies without a Will, then the Register of Wills will issue Letters of Administration to the personal representative. The personal representative will then be known as the administrator or administratrix. Only specific individuals will receive the Letters. These include:

  • A surviving spouse
  • Residuary legatees under a Will
  • Intestate heirs with a preference for closest relations
  • Principal creditors of the decedent at the time of their death
  • Other qualifying persons


Taking Care of the Letters

 The Letters Testamentary and Letters of Administration are crucial documents that declare that the personal representative was designated in the administration of the estate in question. The Register of Wills will issue “short certificates” to demonstrate the personal representative’s authority. Additionally, the personal representative may be required to provide a fiduciary bond to protect the estate’s assets.


Your Duty as the Personal Representative

 If you have been assigned as the personal representative of a decedent’s estate, you’ll have to fulfill many responsibilities. These include using the estate assets to pay the decedent’s financial obligations. These obligations can include loans, income taxes, and inheritance taxes.

Personal Representatives are also responsible for communicating with the heirs or beneficiaries, preparing and filing documents with the Register of Wills, and distributing the estate assets to the designated beneficiaries. Given the enormous role a Personal Representative serves in administering an estate, you may want to contact an attorney specializing in estate administration and wills in Pennsylvania.

Another duty of the Personal Representative is protecting the decedent’s assets to ensure they are not lost, stolen, or destroyed before they are officially transferred to the rightful beneficiaries. That means as a Personal Representative, you may have to change the locks on the decedent’s home, place the assets in a safe deposit box, or other secure storage methods. You must also review the decedent’s insurance policies to check the existing coverage and ensure it is sufficient to protect the decedent’s home, personal effects, vehicles, and furnishings.

Personal Representatives must also advertise the estate for three consecutive weeks in a legal newspaper like county Legal Journal and a newspaper of general circulation. The ads must name the deceased, the name and address of the personal representative, and the attorney. Pennsylvania law required the Personal Representative to notify certain family members as well as the heirs or beneficiaries about the decedent’s death within three months of receiving the Letters, including charitable beneficiaries.


What’s Next When Administering an Estate in Pennsylvania?

 A Personal Representative is in charge of settling the decedent’s affairs, dispensing their assets and belongings according to their Will, and tying up any loose ends. It also involves looking into many tax regulations that may be more complicated for those unfamiliar with tax laws. Working with an experienced estate attorney in Pennsylvania will help ensure you’ll carry out the decedent’s last wishes with success.

Daley Zucker, LLC is a law firm in Pennsylvania specializing in many areas of the law: estate planning and administration, elder law, administrative law, employment law, business, and others.

We are dedicated to finding real solutions to your legal challenges by combining our compassion, experience, and expertise. Contact us today to speak with an attorney who is ready to help you!

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