However, I often find that nobody actually knows what that means, and has absolutely no idea how much work it entails. I think people believe it is a rite of passage, or an honor to be named, which it can be, but it also comes with a lot of work, and some significant responsibility.
The person who is named as the executor in a Last Will and Testament is considered to be a fiduciary and is held to a higher standard than an ordinary individual or beneficiary. If the executor does not carry out his or her duties and obligations appropriately, if the appropriate taxes are not paid or the beneficiary’s interests were not protected like they were supposed to be the executor can be held personally liable in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Furthermore, it is imperative that the person who is being named as the executor is a very organized individual, who is able to handle balancing and managing a checkbook and also multi-tasking. The relationship of a person to another individual does not make them the right choice or the right candidate for the position.
If you are named, my recommendation would be to start understanding now what that entails, and what you will be asked to do down the road. If you are not comfortable serving, I would advise that you let the person know so that they can make alternate or contingent plans in their estate planning.
If you find yourself named as an executor, I would highly recommend that you seek advice from an attorney who has lots of experience in this area. Oftentimes, people are lulled into thinking that acting as the executor and opening the estate is a very simple process, and that an attorney is not needed.
While I agree that the original meeting at the courthouse and getting the grant of Letters Testamentary are not difficult things, that is merely the first step, from that point forward there are a myriad of requirements of notices to not only beneficiaries and heirs, but also creditors. There is a Pennsylvania inheritance tax return required to be filed as well as potentially a fiduciary income tax return. Being named is only the first step, and that is by far the easiest.
Due to the fact that an executor is a fiduciary and is held to a higher standard and can be held personally liable to creditors and to other beneficiaries, I highly recommend seeking the advice of counsel. Not any counsel, but counsel who is familiar with the inner workings of the estate administration process in Pennsylvania, including but not limited to, the priority statutes, understanding who gets paid first, second, third, etc., which can certainly cause issues if the estate does not have a lot of money or happens to be an insolvent estate.
While it can be an honor to be named as an executor, we urge you and encourage you to understand all of the expectations that it comes with and what you can do ahead of time to be prepared. If you find yourself named, plan seek the counsel of a qualified individual to walk you through the process so that you do not have to worry about any potential liability or any potential pitfalls of which you may be unaware.
If you would like to learn more about being an executor in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, please give our office a call at 717-845-5390 or come to one of our upcoming workshops to learn more.