Who Is Entitled To Serve As Executor In Pennsylvania Probate?

The person entitled to serve as the executor of a Pennsylvania probate is either the executor named in the will, or, if decedent died without a will, the person highest in priority according to an order of priority set forth in Pennsylvania law.

Entitlement To Serve In a Testate Estate

When a Pennsylvania decedent dies with a will, the executor nominated in the will is entitled to serve, if qualified.  The persons who are not qualified to serve are discussed below.

Entitlement To Serve In an Intestate Estate

When a Pennsylvania decedent dies without a will, Pennsylvania law dictates an order of priority of persons entitled to serve as executor.  For an intestate administration, or if a named executor in a testate proceeding cannot serve, letters are granted in the following order of priority:

  1. Those entitled to the residuary estate under the will;
  2. Surviving spouse;
  3. Those entitled under intestate law to receive the estate assets as the register determines best administers the estate, giving preference to the sizes of the share;
  4. Decedent’s principal creditors;
  5. Other fit persons;
  6. Nominee of the person renouncing the right to letters of administration
  7. The guardianship support agency serving as guardian of an incapacitated individual that dies during the guardianship;
  8. A redevelopment authority formed under the Urban Redevelopment Law.


Pennsylvania’s order of priority for executors can be found in 20 Pa. C.S. § 3155(a).

Who Is Not Qualified To Serve As an Executor In Pennsylvania?

Just because a person is entitled to appointment as executor in a Pennsylvania probate does not mean that the person is qualified to serve.  Pennsylvania law prohibits the following persons from serving as executor, regardless if they are named in a decedent’s will to serve or if they have priority to serve:

  1. Persons under 18 years of age;
  2. Corporation not authorized to act as a Pennsylvania fiduciary;
  3. A person (other than an executor nominated in the decedent’s will) the register finds to be unfit;
  4. The nominee of any beneficiary or heir of the estate when the beneficiary or heir is outside of the United States;
  5. A person charged with voluntary manslaughter or homicide, except homicide by vehicle, in connection with a decedent’s death unless and until the charge is withdrawn, dismissed or a verdict of not guilty is returned.


Pennsylvania’s law regarding those persons not qualified to serve as an executor of a Pennsylvania estate is found at 20 Pa. C.S. §3156.

Who Has Standing To Petition To Serve As Executor Of a Pennsylvania Probate?

Pennsylvania law grants exclusive standing for the first 30 days after death to the top three categories in the list above of persons entitled to serve as executor to petition to be appointed.  Therefore, for the first 30 days after a decedent’s death, the residuary beneficiaries of a will where the nominated executor cannot serve, the surviving spouse, and the intestate heirs have exclusive standing to petition for appointment.

After the 30-day period, other people with standing are permitted to apply for appointment as executor to administer the estate.  They do not need to obtain the consent of the people who have higher priority to serve under Pennsylvania law.

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