Q: An executor for an estate is appointed by a will, and if there is no will there can be no executor. Who then becomes the person to administer the estate of the deceased?
A: Pennsylvania provides that the substitute for the executor is known as an Administrator. An administrator has the same duties, responsibilities, and powers that an executor has because the administrator is appointed by the register of wills to administer the estate in the same way that an executor would administer a decedent’s estate.
Sometimes there is a question as to whom is to act as the administrator of an estate. Pennsylvania law provides that there is a certain pecking order of persons who are to act as the administrator, and a number of them are a little bit strange.
First in line to act as administrator are those persons who will be the residuary beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate. The residuary beneficiary is usually the spouse, and if there is no spouse, then it’s the children of the decedent.
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Sometimes there is no spouse or children and another party, who may be part of the family or not, would be the residuary beneficiary, and that person could apply to the register of wills to become the administrator of the estate.
Because there is no will to appoint a residuary beneficiary, one must look to Pennsylvania law to determine who the residuary beneficiaries are, and once that is determined it can be determined who the administrator can be. Next in line to be the administrator is the surviving spouse, who may be the residuary beneficiary, and in that case she would qualify under the above information.
The third category of persons are chosen by the register of wills from those persons who are entitled to inherit from the estate under the intestate law (no will) at the discretion of the register of wills, and he or she is to give preference to the size of the shares of those who inherit.
Thus if there are two people to inherit under the intestate law, and if one of them inherits 75 percent and the other one 25 percent, then the register is most likely to pick the 75 percent beneficiary. The persons asking to be the administrator in this type of situation may have to argue before a register of wills to present their case as to why they should be the administrator as opposed to another party.
The fourth category of possible administrators are the creditors of the decedent at the time of his death.
Yes, a creditor can apply to become the administrator of an estate. Think of an automobile accident and the decedent dies and there is money in his estate, but no administrator steps forward to administrate. A creditor of the decedent who may have a claim because of the accident or for another reason can then step forward and ask to be appointed administrator with the basic purpose in mind of paying himself his claim, but once he becomes the administrator he has the duty to administrate the whole estate properly, and not look out just for himself.
If one of the above possible administrators decides to renounce their right to be the administrator, then the renouncing person may ask the register of wills to appoint a nominee in his place, and the register of wills may appoint that person. In this situation, typically the person might renounce and ask that a bank act as the administrator, because banks are neutral parties in most of these matters and not connected to the family.
There are times when no one will step forward to act as administrator. There are times when the attorney for the person who may want to be the administrator is informed of the task, time constraints, obligations and responsibilities, and they then refuse to act as administrator. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen very often.