James C. Kovaleski, Esq, is an associate attorney with OWM Law and Co-Chair of the Estate Planning Practice Group. Mr. Kovaleski concentrates his practice in the Estate Planning and Administration, Elder Law, Tax Law, Business Planning and Real Estate Transaction areas.

Mr. Kovaleski is active in the Phoenixville area, working out of OWM Law’s Phoenixville office, serving as a Phoenixville Council member, as well as serving on the Boards of various local non-profits. He lives in Phoenixville with his wife and daughter.

Phone: 610-917-9347
Fax: 610-917-9348
Email: jkovaleski@owmlaw.com

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The material in this publication was created as of the date set forth above and is based on laws, court decisions, administrative rulings and congressional materials that existed at that time, and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinions on specific facts. The information in this publication is not intended to create, and the transmission and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship.


When a person passes away owning property in his or her name individually, it may be necessary to open an estate. When an estate is opened, an individual is appointed as the executor or administrator of the estate and given the authority to act on behalf of the estate. An executor or administrator, often referred to as a “personal representative of the estate,” has many duties to perform and also has obligations to the heirs and creditors of the estate.

When faced with an estate to administer, the first question is whether or not the person who passed away, commonly referred as the "decedent," had a Will. If the decedent had a Will, it is referred to as “dying testate.” The Will should provide the decedent’s instructions and wishes regarding administration of the estate, including who should serve as executor and who should receive property. The person named as executor must register the Will at the Register of Wills office, which may be referred to as probating the Will. Upon petition, the Register of Wills will issue the appropriate documents to the executor or administrator confirming that they are authorized to act on behalf of the estate.

If an individual dies without a Will, commonly referred to as “dying intestate,” an estate may still be opened for the decedent. However, the applicable Pennsylvania statutes will provide guidance to the Register of Wills regarding several issues, including who will serve as administrator of the estate. An administrator and executor have similar responsibilities.

Once probate is complete and the personal representative of the estate is appointed, he or she has many duties and it is important for the personal representative to timely carry out these duties. Failure to do so may result in personal liability of the executor whereby the executor may become personally liable for debts of the decedent. These duties include, but are not limited to: advertising the estate; giving notice to beneficiaries; securing and/or protecting assets of the estate; and payment of the debts of the decedent.

In addition, the personal representative is responsible for filing the necessary tax returns for the estate. These may include a Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Return, a Federal Estate Tax Return, a Fiduciary Income Tax Return, and a Final Lifetime Income Tax Return for decedent.

The personal representative has broad authority to act on behalf of the estate, but also has a duty to the creditors and heirs of the estate to make sure the assets are not wasted. A person who is named as an executor, or who may serve as an administrator, should have an understanding of their responsibility before agreeing to serve and may wish to seek the professional advice of an attorney to represent them in the estate administration process.

If you have any questions regarding this topic, please contact James C. Kovaleski, Esquire at 610-917-9347 or jkovaleski@owmlaw.com, or any of the OWM Law attorneys to discuss your role as personal representative. Also, please watch OWM's September 2013 Legal Talk program regarding the Basics of Estate Administration on our website here.

Upcoming Events

David A. Megay, Esq. speaking at SCORE Business Planning Seminars on 11/4/13 (contact SCORE at 610-327-2673).

David A. Megay, Esq., speaking at Chester County Night School Seminars at Owen J. Roberts High School, Pottstown, PA, on 9/25/13 entitled "Ask the Lawyer: Buying and Selling Real Estate in PA" and on 10/2/13 entitled "Ask the Lawyer: Starting Your Own Business"(contact Chester County Night School at 610-692-1964 or online at www.chestercountynightschool.org).

Kathleen M. Martin, Esq., speaking at Chester County Night School Seminars at W.C. Henderson High School, West Chester, PA on 10/9/13 entitled "Elder Law Issues" and at Owen J. Roberts High School, Pottstown, PA on 10/16/13 entitled "Beyond the Simple Will" (contact Chester County Night School at 610-692-1964 or online at www.chestercountynightschool.org).

Joseph K. Koury, Esq., will be a panelist at a presentation by Eric C. Nichols, CFP, CLU, CRPC, entitled "Business Killers: Avoiding the Six Mistakes That Can Destroy Your Business & Your Future" on 10/17/13 at 6 p.m. at Brookside Country Club, Pottstown, PA. Light appetizers will be served, and business owners are encouraged to attend with their spouses. RSVP requested by 10/2/13 to jkkoury@owmlaw.com.

OWM Law sponsoring First Friday celebration in Phoenixville on 10/4/13.

Watch Legal Talk, brought to you by OWM, on PCTV, Tuesdays at 8:30 on Channel 28, and Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on Channel 98, or on our website at www.owmlaw.com/legal_talk/legal_talk.php.

Read Legal Ease every first and third Sunday in the Pottstown Mercury.

O'Donnell,Weiss & Mattei, P.C.

41 E. High Street
Pottstown, PA 19464
Fax: 610-323-2845

347 Bridge Street, Suite 200
Phoenixville, PA 19460
Fax: 610-917-9348