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When a loved one passes away, and while the family is fighting through grief, the responsibility of managing the deceased’s estate often falls on the shoulders of an executor. This important role carries significant responsibilities and requires time, attention to detail, and dedication. Understanding the duties and responsibilities of an executor is essential to ensuring the smooth administration of any estate.

Our experienced family estate planning attorneys from Perna & Abracht, LLC can help you understand the role of an executor, the tasks they must undertake, and how to navigate the probate process in Pennsylvania.

Who is an Executor?

An executor is a person appointed by the decedent (the person who has passed away) in their Will to manage their estate after their death. The executor is responsible for ensuring that the decedent’s wishes are carried-out according to their Will, handling the probate process, and distributing assets to the beneficiaries. In cases where there is no Will or the named executor is unwilling or unable to serve, the court will appoint an administrator to fulfill these duties.

Duties of An Executor:

Identifying and Gathering Assets

One of the primary responsibilities of an executor is to locate and gather information about all the assets of the decedent. This may include bank accounts, real estate, investments, personal property, and other valuables. The executor must take steps to secure these assets and ensure their proper management during the probate process.

Starting the Probate Process

The initial step in managing an estate involves commencing the probate procedure, which is the legal way of transferring the assets of a deceased individual to their intended beneficiaries. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, this process starts by submitting a formal request to the Register of Wills in the county where the deceased person was residing at the time of their passing. The appointed executor is required to furnish a copy of the Will, a death certificate, and a comprehensive list of the deceased person’s assets. Once the Register of Wills approves the Will for probate, the executor will receive Letters Testamentary, granting them the legal authority to represent the estate. Seeking guidance from our experienced estate planning attorneys can help you avoid any potential complications.

Debts and Expenses

Before the assets can be distributed to the beneficiaries, the executor must ensure that all debts and expenses are paid. This includes funeral expenses, outstanding bills, property taxes, and any other debts owed by the decedent at the time of their death. Executors should also be aware of both the Federal Estate Tax and the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax, which may apply to certain assets passing to beneficiaries. It is essential to consult with an experienced estate attorney to ensure compliance with tax laws and avoid potential penalties.

Preparing and Filing a Final Accounting

After all the assets have been distributed, the executor must prepare a final accounting of the estate. This accounting provides a detailed record of all financial transactions related to the estate, including the assets collected, debts and expenses paid, and distributions made to beneficiaries. The final accounting must be filed with the Register of Wills and, in some cases, may require approval by the court.

Seeking Professional Assistance

Administering an estate can be a complex and time-consuming process. It is essential for executors to seek the assistance of an experienced estate attorney to guide them through the probate process and ensure compliance with all legal requirements. An attorney can provide valuable advice, help avoid costly mistakes, and ensure that the executor fulfills their fiduciary duties, thereby shielding the executor from personal liability.


Serving as an executor is a significant responsibility that requires a thorough understanding of the probate process and the duties involved in managing an estate. By familiarizing themselves with these duties and seeking professional assistance, executors can help ensure the smooth administration of their loved one’s estate and the proper distribution of assets to beneficiaries.