November 22, 2017


Blue ballpoint pen and a last will and testament.

My father has asked me to be the Executor of his Will. Before I agree, I wanted to inquire as to what the duties of an Executor are. Specifically, I wanted to find out if I incur any personal liability, e.g., can my assets be attached to pay any of my father’s debts?

To answer the last part of your question first, performing the duties of an Executor does not attach any personal liability on you, i.e., you are not personally responsible for the debts of the decedent. That having been said, if you were to mis-manage the estate or distribute property before all the taxes and debts were paid, you may incur personal liability in your role as Executor. The following is a brief explanation of the duties of an Executor:

  1. You must take the Will to the appropriate county agency for the recording of Wills, submit the original Will for recording (this is called probate), and take an oath that you will administer the estate in accordance with the law.
  2. The Executor is responsible for advertising the estate, providing notice of estate administration, and certifying that notice was given.
  3. You must, to the best of your ability, identify all of the assets in the estate. This includes both real estate and personal property, i.e., bank accounts, stocks, bonds, etc. These items must be valued as of the date of death and you must keep proof of these valuations.
  4. You must pay the debts of the decedent from the assets you have identified. Again, these debts do not become your personal responsibility, they will be paid out of the estate assets. (We will address in a further blog what happens when the assets are not sufficient to pay all the debts.)
  5. The Executor is responsible for preparation and filing of the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Return and payment of the tax. In reality, the preparation of this return is generally delegated to attorneys. The Inheritance Tax Return must be filed and Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax paid within nine months of decedent’s passing (although a six-month extension can be granted). If the tax is not paid within the nine-month period, interest begins to accrue.
  6. Finally, the Executor is responsible for making final distribution of the estate to the beneficiaries after an appraisement of the Inheritance Tax Return has been received from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue. This is generally effected by the Executor preparing an informal accounting, i.e., monies in and monies out, as well as securing from the beneficiaries a Receipt, Release, Refunding Agreement, acknowledging that the Executor has performed his duties properly and the beneficiary agrees with the distribution. Upon receiving the signed Receipt, Release, Refunding Agreements, the checks are then sent to the beneficiaries and the estate is complete. There is often a reserve maintained in the estate account for potential additional income taxes or any other contingencies that may arise.

This briefly summarizes the general duties of an Executor. Contact Halligan & Keaton today if you have any questions about probate, or would like help administering an Estate.

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