Rules for personal representatives in Pennsylvania

5 min read

If you are in charge of a Pennsylvania estate during probate

  • In Pennsylvania, a personal representative (also called an executor or administrator) is responsible for leading estates through probate.

  • To qualify, you must be 18 years old and a resident of the U.S.—and Pennsylvania does not prohibit out-of-state personal representatives.

  • Multiple personal representatives, also known as co-executors, are allowed in Pennsylvania.

  • There is no legal mandate for how much a personal representative should be paid beyond directing judges to approve “reasonable“ compensation. Most fees are calculated based on the size of the estate.

If you are the personal representative for an estate going through probate in Pennsylvania, you are in charge of leading the estate through probate—a job also known as an executor or administrator.

If you are named in the will, you may be called the executor, and if you are appointed because your loved one did not leave a will, you may be called the administrator. But in Pennsylvania, “personal representative” is an umbrella term for both.

The objective of personal representative is more or less the same everywhere: to settle the estate’s affairs and ultimately distribute assets to beneficiaries and heirs. But Pennsylvania, like all states, has its own probate laws, which affects who is eligible to serve, how much they are paid, and the process in which they are working.

Who can serve as a personal representative

In Pennsylvania a personal representative must be at least 18 years of age and of sound mind, and a citizen or resident of the United States. And they must not have been charged with homicide or voluntary manslaughter in connection with their loved one’s death.

In addition, Orphan’s Court has the power to reject someone’s petition to serve as personal representative if they find them unfit for other reasons.

Finally, you are allowed to name a corporation as personal representative in your will, as long as they are authorized to act as a fiduciary in Pennsylvania.

Out-of-state personal representatives in Pennsylvania

Similar to other states, Pennsylvania allows out-of-state personal representatives, but it might make the job more difficult.

There is also a practical consideration to make in terms of the executor living out-of-state—you will likely have to travel back and forth consistently, which can get expensive. Unless it’s necessary or suitable to your particular situation, it’s usually best to have an executor who lives in the same state so that they can be available to deal with day-to-day responsibilities. 

Like many other states, Pennsylvania allows multiple personal representatives, also known as co-executors. However, they cannot act independently.

Pennsylvania allows multiple personal representatives, also known as co-executors. However, they cannot act independently.

If you’ve been named personal representative along with your sibling, for example, you would both have to be present for every estate-related meeting and decision (meetings with your attorney, court dates, etc.).

This can end up causing more inconvenience than it’s worth, so it may be a good idea to go ahead and decide on one executor as a family. A probate attorney can help you make the right decision. 

Probate bonds in Pennsylvania

Probate bonds (also called administrator or executor bonds) are usually required by the courts in Pennsylvania as a financial guarantee to protect both the executor and the beneficiaries.

An administrator bond is required when the decedent died intestate (without a will), and an executor bond is required when there is a will and a named executor. There are also trustee bonds, which are needed when a decedent leaves some assets to beneficiaries “in trust.” 

In each scenario, the cost of the bond is calculated based on the total estate value. Generally, executor bond premiums in PA are calculated at 0.5% for every $100,000 of estate assets. Consult with your attorney to get assistance finding the lowest rate for you. In rare cases, you may be able to skip bonds––if all beneficiaries agree on waiving the bond, for instance. Ultimately, it is up to the court’s discretion.

How much are personal representatives paid?

Personal representatives are usually compensated for their time and effort with a fee that comes out of the estate. The size of the fee ranges depending on the estate’s value.

Unlike other states, though, Pennsylvania does not designate a fee structure. Instead, the court approves suggested fees that it deems “reasonable.”

Without a legal mandate, attorneys and executors generally rely on a system called the Johnson Estate fee schedule to calculate an appropriate and reasonable executor’s fee.

It’s important to understand that the Johnson fee schedule is a helpful guidepost for establishing an executor’s compensation, but it is not a law.

If you are a primary beneficiary of the estate, it may be in your best interest to waive the fee.

Judges ultimately work on a case-by-case basis to determine a fee that is “reasonable and just under the circumstances.”

The Johnson fee is calculated as 5% of the value of an estate worth $100,000 or less, with the percentage decreasing marginally as the estate’s value increases. Each portion of an estate’s value is charged its own marginal rate, which gets stacked together for the total.

For example, an estate valued at $100,000 would have a fee of $5,000, but an estate valued at $200,000 would have a fee of $9,000, which is 5% of the first $100,000 plus 4% of the next $100,000. 

While the personal representative’s fee is meant as compensation for the heavy workload that the executor takes on, there are many reasons why you might not want to accept the it.

If you are a primary beneficiary of the estate, for example, it may be in your best interest to waive the fee, so that you get more value from your inheritance while paying fewer taxes. 

Can an executor quit or be replaced?

While it does not happen often, executors do sometimes engage in misconduct, whether intentionally or not. If there is proof of this, then the beneficiaries can petition to the court to have the executor removed, and another one appointed. 

The court will need to see solid evidence of misconduct, otherwise, they may disagree with the petition. Similarly, if you are the current executor and you want to quit, the court will require you to have a compelling reason for needing to step down. 

Of course, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the responsibilities required of an executor, and it’s only natural to feel unsure of your ability to handle it at times. That’s why it’s important to hire an experienced probate lawyer to make things way more manageable for you.

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