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Who has the right to serve as the Executor when there is no Will?

What is an executor?

An executor (or executrix for females) is a person appointed to administer and carry out their late loved one's wishes in accordance with his/her Last Will and Testament. The executor's role includes closing all bank accounts, paying bills, filing tax returns, distributing the estate, and all other estate-related issues. When a person dies without a Will, known as intestate, the proper terminology is an administrator (or administratrix for females). An executor or administrator is only appointed when probate is necessary. In other words, if there is no probate estate, there is no need to have an executor or administrator appointed.

Who has the right to serve as the executor when there is no Will?

When a person dies intestate, we turn to the statute to determine who has the right to serve. The statute prioritizes the following people in the following order:

1. Surviving spouse,

2. Those entitled under intestate law*

3. Principal creditors of the Decedent (your loved one), such as mortgage company

4. Other fit persons, such as former Power of Attorney

5. Person nominated by those renouncing from one of the above listed categories (i.e. the spouse is entitled first, but the spouse renounces and nominates a child to serve instead).

6. Former guardian of an incapacitated person

*Who has the right to serve under intestate law if there is no spouse?

Number 2 in the above list is marked with an asterisk because we refer to this portion of the statute most often. In most cases, we are administering an estate where there is no surviving spouse and the intestate heirs/next-of-kin are handling their loved one's affairs. Intestate law deems the following people entitled in the following order:

1. Issue of the Decedent

2. Parents of the Decedent

3. Brothers, sisters or their issue (Decedent's nieces/nephews)

4. Grandparents of the Decedent

5. Uncles, aunts, and their children or grandchildren

6. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

As you can see from this list, the children are first in line to administer the estate if there is no spouse. This is very common. Alternatively, if an adult child passes away without a Will, was not married and did not have children, his parents would be entitled to administer his estate.

What if there are multiple people with the right to serve, but only one wants to serve?

The other parties must renounce and nominate the one person that is willing to serve alone. For example, if there are multiple children with the right to serve, but only one child actually wants to serve as the executor, the others can renounce their rights. This is done by having each of the renouncing children sign a Renunciation before a notary public acknowledging and renouncing his/her right to serve and requesting instead that the willing child be appointed. If all children are in agreement, the Renunciations are presented to the Register of Wills at the time of probate and the willing child is appointed as the sole executor of the estate.


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