Personal Representative

When someone passes away in Pennsylvania, the the Register of Wills must appoint someone to perform the tasks required to settle their estate. That person is generally referred to as the personal representative. PA ST 20 Pa.C.S. § 102. Other names for the role include executor and administrator. While the personal representative has many duties and responsibilities, they overall all goal of the estate administration process is to pay estate debts and distribute estate assets to beneficiaries and heirs.

Personal Representative Appointment in Pennsylvania

If the decedent left a will, the testator would have indicated in their will who they want to service as their personal representative. That person has first priority. Generally, as long as they are not disqualified and as long as they want to serve, the Register of Wills will appoint them.

In the absence of a will or if the person named in the will is unable or unwilling to serve as personal representative, other interested parties such as the decedent’s surviving spouse, children, or other beneficiaries of heirs have the right to petition the court to be appointed the personal representative. Note that even if the person was nominated in the decedent’s will, they do not have the authority to act on behalf of the estate until they submit a petition to the Register of Wills and receive approval. PA ST 20 Pa.C.S. § 901.

Duties and Responsibilities of the Pennsylvania Personal Representative

Once the personal representative has been formally appointed, they must complete the following tasks in order to pay estate debt and distribute estate assets:

  • Inventory the assets. The personal representative must identify estate assets, take control of them, and secure them. They must also determine the value of those assets and file an inventory of estate assets with the Registrar of Wills. 23 Pa.C.S. § 3301. This is an important step because it allows everyone involved in the process (personal representative, interested parties, court) to understand the value of the estate and what’s available for debts, expenses, and distribution.
  • Notify creditors and pay debts. In order to pay estate debt, the personal representative must first notify creditors of the decedent’s death by publishing a notification. The notification will all advise creditors the process for filing a claim and the deadline. Only claims that have been timely filed and valid will be paid. The personal representative is also responsible for making sure that expenses related to the administration process are paid, such as court fees and attorney’s fees.
  • Asset distribution. Asset distribution can only begin after debts and expenses have been paid. In addition, before they can distribute assets, they must request permission from the court. The personal representative is required to distribute assets according to the directions in the decedent’s will. If the decedent did not leave a will, then the personal representative must base asset distribution on Pennsylvania’s laws of intestate succession which provides that intestate estates go to the decedent’s next of kin. 23 Pa.C.S. § 2101 et seq.
  • Other activities. In addition to the general estate administration tasks, the personal representative may have to handle tasks that are considered extraordinary. For example, if the decedent owned a business, the personal representative may have to temporarily manage the decedent’s business for the benefit of the estate.  23 Pa.C.S. § 3314. If there are disputes during the process, the personal representative will have address them. If there is an issue related to hard to locate beneficiaries or heirs, the personal representative will have to take steps to find them.

Compensation of Personal Representative in Pennsylvania

Under Pennsylvania law, personal representatives are entitled to be paid for their work in settling an estate. The stand for compensation is that is to be reasonable. 23 Pa.C.S. § 3537. The court will review the actions the personal representative completed, the size of the estate, and the complexity of the process.

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