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What are the responsibilities of an executor to a will?

When an individual makes a will, he or she chooses an executor, or personal representative, to handle his or her estate after death. While many people choose a trusted family member or friend as executor, it is important to know the role may take a considerable amount of time, effort and organizational skill. 

From notifying beneficiaries and valuing assets to discharging debts and distributing inheritances, an executor may have many responsibilities, depending on the complexity of the estate. Here is a quick overview of an executor’s legal duties. 

Making an inventory of assets

One of the first tasks of an executor is filing an estate inventory with the Register of Wills. This inventory may include personal property as well as real estate and financial assets like savings, investment and retirement accounts. If the value of an asset is unknown, the personal representative may also need to seek appropriate appraisals. 

Paying estate debts, expenses and taxes

The executor is also responsible for identifying and fulfilling final expenses and debts tied to the estate, including medical and funeral bills, estate administration expenses and outstanding debts. Additionally, he or she may need to file a state and federal inheritance tax return. 

Distributing estate assets

Pennsylvania law requires that executors notify heirs and beneficiaries of the will at the beginning of the probate process. Once the personal representative has fulfilled debts, taxes and expenses, he or she can distribute the estate’s remaining assets according to the terms of the will. 

Even a careful and conscientious executor may run into difficulties during the probate process. Personal representatives to an estate should know that they may be personally liable for mistakes or oversights. However, in many cases, an executor may be able to include the cost of legal assistance under general administrative expenses for the estate.