Choosing a personal representative (formerly called “executor”) for your estate is no easy matter. You will want to make sure you have selected a person or entity who you trust to ensure all of your final arrangements are carried out in the manner you wish after you pass away. Although a spouse, adult child, or trusted relative is often a good choice, you may wonder who you should select as your personal representative if your first choice is unable or unwilling to serve, or if there is no available family member.
A personal representative is a person selected by you to carry out your wishes which are contained in your will and estate plan, which includes administering your estate once you have passed away. Generally speaking, a personal representative’s duties are to carry out the instructions of the decedent as set forth in the will, and manage the affairs of the deceased person’s estate as prescribed by law.
The personal representative’s basic responsibilities include:
If you're selected to serve as personal representative of an estate, you may be concerned about how to move forward. Fortunately, there are some tips for how to be the best personal representative you can be.
Your job is to handle the estate of someone who has passed away, and this needs to be done in accordance with the terms of the will and applicable probate laws. If you're working with your attorney to help do this, he or she will guide you on the process, including which assets should be retained, which debts must be paid, and how the estate assets should be distributed to beneficiaries.
As personal representative, you must follow what's written in the will. If you (or the estate’s beneficiaries) want to deviate from what the will says for any reason, you must obtain approval from the probate court. That's where working with an attorney can be very helpful, since you, as a personal representative, are representing the interests of all of the beneficiaries under the will, not just yourself or some of them.
As personal representative, you need to secure the assets of the estate as soon as possible after you have been appointed as the personal representative. That comes from receiving letters of authority from the probate court after an estate is opened. Securing assets often means changing locks, gathering assets, locating missing assets, and making sure estate assets are properly insured. You'll be required to inform heirs and creditors as soon as possible as well, so that they understand the process and when distributions to beneficiaries are likely to occur. Your responsibilities as personal representative are established by applicable probate statutes and court rules. If you don’t follow them and don’t properly perform your duties as personal representative, you may have some personal liability.
Communication will make you a better personal representative. The process of administering an estate, even when there’s a will to direct distributions, usually takes several months. Distributions cannot be made until proper notice and publication have been given and the statutory claims period expires. Keeping the beneficiaries advised as to the status and as to the anticipated completion date are often key to keeping beneficiaries happy. By being transparent in your actions, you are better able to maintain control over the estate administration, even if interested parties try to influence your decisions.
Consulting an attorney regarding how to properly perform your responsibilities as personal representative is usually a good idea. Getting proper legal advice at the outset is often less expensive than trying to fix problems you may have created by not understanding how to properly administer the estate. The estate planning attorneys at O’Reilly Rancilio are available to assist you. For information visit our website or call 586-726-1000.