The obvious main purpose of a Last Will and Testament is to leave money and property to one’s heirs. The Will should also nominate a person to serve as the estate’s executor. It is the job of the executor to ensure that all governmental and creditor claims are paid and distribute the net estate to the beneficiaries.
The deceased may have decided to exclude a close family member from the Will. Naturally, this may sometimes create tensions between those given gifts in the Will and those excluded. When the representative opens the estate and receives the Letters Testamentary there is an obligation to notify certain persons that the estate was opened. But this raises a common question. Is the representative required to notify only those named in the Will, or also other family members who were excluded from the Will?
No matter who is named in the Will as beneficiaries, Pennsylvania law requires notice to both the persons named in the Will and other persons as directed by the statute. According to PA Orphans’ Court Rule 10.5, whenever the deceased left a Will, the personal representative must give notice to all beneficiaries listed in the Will, plus the deceased’s surviving spouse and all of the deceased’s children. There are other notice requirements as well which generally pertain to charitable organizations and governmental claims.
What Happens if Notice is Not Given?
One purpose of the notice requirement is to allow an excluded family member to exercise their legal rights. For example, a surviving spouse is entitled to take the spousal share of the estate regardless of what the deceased’s Will directs. A spouse or child of the deceased may also wish to challenge the validity of the Will or its interpretation. Failure to provide timely notice of the estate can prevent the exercise of those rights.
A representative who distributes the estate assets without giving notice to the required persons runs the risk of personal liability for the failure to notify. A successful claim made by the disappointed heir who was not given notice against the estate could result in a costly mistake for the representative.
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