Estate Administration

Yes, Pennsylvania does impose tax on property that passes by reason of death.  The different tax rates are:


  • 0% to a charity, a spouse, or a beneficiary who is under the age of 21
  • 4.5% to a lineal beneficiary (the decedent’s parent, step-parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, step-child, or step-grandchild)
  • 12% to a sibling or half-sibling
  • 15% to any other heir

Again, this tax is imposed upon property that passes by reason of death, as well as on any property that was transferred without adequate consideration within one year of death.  This includes real estate, bank accounts, retirement accounts, tangible personal property, and gifts made by a decedent not more than one year before death.  

Life insurance proceeds are NOT subject to inheritance tax and are not taxable income in Pennsylvania.  

An Executor (in the case of a Will, referred to as an Administrator if there was no Will) has a broad range of duties in that position.  

Generally, the Executor must identify the decedent’s assets, pay the decedent’s final debts and taxes, file the necessary tax returns, account his activities to the beneficiaries, and distribute the remaining assets to the heirs.

Specifically, depending upon the particular circumstances, an Executor’s obligations often include the following:


  • File a Petition with the Register of Wills to be appointed to act;
  • Provide notice to all heirs;
  • Advertise the opening of the Estate;
  • Value the decedent’s assets, either through sale or professional appraisals;
  • Consolidate the decedent’s bank accounts and assets into a single Estate account;
  • Determine whether, when, and how to sell the decedent’s real property and tangible personal property;
  • Liquidate any stocks;
  • Make a prepayment against inheritance tax, if possible;
  • File an Inventory of all assets with the Court;
  • File the decedent’s final income tax return and Inheritance Tax Return;
  • Account to the heirs all financial transactions from the date of death to the date of accounting;
  • Obtain the heirs’ or Court’s approval of the accounting;
  • Distribute the remaining assets to the heirs according to the terms of the Will or the law (in the case of intestacy).

The Executor is entitled to be paid a commission from the Estate for taking on these responsibilities and seeing the matter to a conclusion.

Every Estate is different and the timing depends on the particularities of each Estate.  In some cases real estate sells very quickly, and the decedent was very organized, such that all assets and debts are easily identified and handled.  In other matters, it is much more difficult to obtain necessary information about the decedent’s assets and debts, and more time is involved in doing so. 

It is also worth note that if an Executor pays out the residue of an Estate before one year has passed after complete advertising of the Estate, and the Executor then receives notice of an outstanding debt or claim, the Executor can be personally liable for that debt.  Therefore, often Executors elect to wait that year before making distributions.

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