After a family member’s death, the first step should be to determine if they had a last will and testament. If so, you will want to locate the original will and make sure it has been properly signed and witnessed. The named executor will need to go to the Register of Wills with the original will, photo identification, and some method of payment to open the estate. If the named executor does not want to act they can sign a renunciation which would allow someone else to take on the role. The Register of Wills will give the executor a short certificate of letters testamentary. This document authorizes the executor to handle the decedent’s estate. If a loved one has passed away without a will, the Pennsylvania laws on intestacy will govern how their estate is handled. The closest kin can apply to the Register of Wills to be designated as the administrator of the estate. They will also be granted a short certificate as proof of their authority to handle the estate.

The executor or administrator has the responsibility for identifying and managing all the assets and debts as well as identifying beneficiaries and their contact information. Notice should be provided to all possible beneficiaries. Notice should also be provided to all possible debtors by publishing notice in the local law reporter as well as a local newspaper of general circulation. The executor or administrator should notify social security, employer(s), banks, insurance companies, retirement plans, etc. regarding the death of the decedent. Ideally within three months of the date of death, the executor or administrator should pay estimated taxes on the estate to get a discount. Taxes for the estate will depend on the size of the estate. A federal estate identification number should be obtained. The executor or administrator also needs to make sure the final individual tax return for the decedent is prepared and filed in addition to the inheritance tax return.