Understanding the Responsibilities of an Executor of a Will

Understanding the Responsibilities of an Executor of a WillAn executor of a will has many responsibilities. Identifying and securing the assets owned by the estate, probating the will, paying creditors, and distributing assets to beneficiaries are just some of the tasks that are necessary. As an executor or personal representative, you are also required to put the interests of the estates’ beneficiaries first, which means that you should notify them promptly.


Many wills in Pennsylvania must go through probate. This process includes validation of the will, distribution of assets to beneficiaries, payment of debts, filing tax returns, and settling the estate. If someone dies without a will, the court appoints a personal representative to handle these tasks. Assets such as life insurance, jointly held property, and retirement accounts that have designated beneficiaries do not have to go through probate.

As an executor or personal representative, you must send a written notice to beneficiaries within three months of filing the will in probate court (Orphans Court in PA). An executor must also publish a notice of probate in local newspapers according to court rules and notify creditors. Probate can take as little as a few months or much longer if issues arise. After all debts are paid, tax returns are filed, and a final accounting of the estate is completed, assets can be distributed. An attorney can explain the probate process and handle all of the legal aspects of settling the estate.

Protecting the Estate’s Assets

In addition to putting beneficiaries’ interests first, you also have an obligation to safeguard the estate’s assets, keep proper financial records, treat all beneficiaries fairly, and keep the estate’s assets separate from your own. Notifying beneficiaries as soon as possible can help you build trust. Being proactive, impartial and taking the role of executor seriously demonstrates that you are committed to settling the estate in an ethical manner.

When a Will is Contested

A probated will is a matter of public record. Even when someone has a valid will at the time of their death, named beneficiaries, spouses, and children of the decedent can contest it. If you are facing this type of challenge as the executor or personal representative of an estate, it is vital to hire an experienced lawyer who is well-versed in family wills and trusts. Attempting to handle these issues on your own is stressful and may result in unnecessary, costly litigation that drags on for years.

Dealing with Other Conflicts

It is vital to be aware of possible conflicts of interest, whether they are real or perceived. If a beneficiary has concerns about this, an estate planning attorney can assess the circumstances and advise you on the best way to move forward. If someone alleges that you have unfairly or unethically benefitted from your role as executor, seek the counsel of your own attorney to protect your rights.

Whether you are interested in drafting a will or need assistance as the executor of an estate, our West Chester estate lawyers can help with any legal issues that may come your way.