The Personal Representative, also know as the Executor or the Administrator, is the person who is given the legal authority to act on behalf of the Estate. The Personal Representative has many responsibilities, which include locating, collecting, valuing, and preserving the personal assets of the Decedent, paying all debts of the Decedent, including all income taxes and inheritance taxes, distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries of the Estate, and otherwise complying with the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania concerning the proper administration of Estates.
A Personal Representative must be appointed by the Office of the Register of Wills in the jurisdiction (county) where the Decedent resided. The Register of Wills in that county will issue Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration to the Personal Representative, which are the official documents that authorize the representative to act on behalf of the Estate.
Letters Testamentary are issued when a Will is found that names a person or persons to act as Executor. In this case, the person or persons named in the Will are required to take the original Will, along with an original Death Certificate, to the office of Register of Wills in the county where the Decedent resided. The Register of Wills will probate the Will, and the Executor or Executors will take an oath or otherwise affirm to fully carry out the terms of the Will. Documents will be issued to the Personal Representative that authorize the Personal Representative to act on behalf of the Estate. However, the Executor named in the Will may relinquish this responsibility and often times the Will designates a second Executor (successor Executor) to serve. If a second Executor is not named in the Will then the Register can appoint another person to act as the Personal Representative.
Letters of Administration are issued when no Will is found or when a Will is found that for some reason cannot be probated or does not name an Executor. When there is no Will or no clear identification as to who may qualify as an Executor, a petition must be filed with the Register of Wills, requesting the appointment of an Administrator. There is an order of preference for the appointment of an Administrator. The surviving spouse and children are the most likely to qualify for appointment, as is an attorney licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania. Others may qualify to serve as the Administrator.
The family may also request that a person unrelated to the decedent act as the Estate’s Personal Representative. In some situations, it may be necessary for more than one person to act as Personal Representative. However, it is important to remember that appointing more than one person to act as Personal Representative may make the probate process more cumbersome and time consuming.
As will be discussed later, it is important to remember that the Personal Representative needs to keep accurate records of all transactions throughout the entire administration process, since the Personal Representative may be required to account for his or her activities to various taxing authorities, the Estate’s creditors, and heirs. And, the failure of the Personal Representative to act in the best interest of the Estate may expose the representative to personal liability. Most of these of these record keeping responsibilities can be given to the Personal Representative’s attorney.