After someone dies, the person’s estate needs to pay off any debts before the remaining assets can be distributed to the heirs. Often, this requires probate, a legal process overseen by a court. The personal representative, also called the executor of the estate, will be responsible for administering the estate during the process.
Selecting the Personal Representative
The personal representative is often named in the will. When creating your will, you should think about who would be a suitable choice for this role. The personal representative is often an adult child or other relative. A financial institution can serve as the executor.
However, a person does not have to agree to serve as the personal representative just because they are named in the will. They can refuse. This is one reason why it’s good to discuss your choice, along with other key estate planning issues, with your family.
It’s also smart to name more than one executor. Even if someone has agreed to the role previously, they may change their mind or be too busy to serve when the time comes. It’s also possible that the person named as the executor will die before the person making the will.
If there is no personal representative named – for example, if a person dies without a will – the court will name the executor according to state law.
The Duties of the Personal Representative
The personal representative is responsible for administering the estate’s debts and assets. The representative’s duties typically include, but may not be limited to, the following:
- Submitting the probate inventory, which lists the assets owned by the estate. Typically, this must be done within 60 days.
- Providing notice of the death. Creditors, insurance companies and other agencies must be notified of the death. A notice must also be published in the newspaper to alert potential creditors who may have a claim to the estate.
- Paying any debts and taxes owed by the estate.
- Completing a final accounting or verified statement of the estate.
- Distributing the estate according to the terms of the will or state law.
What to Do If You’re the Personal Representative
Probate takes several months or even longer to complete. Before agreeing to serve as the personal representative, make sure you’re up to the task.
This is a complicated process involving sensitive legal and financial matters, and there’s a lot of paperwork involved, so you should enlist legal assistance. Contact an attorney who is experienced in estate and probate law. To ease the process as much as possible, bring the death certificate, the original will, a list of assets and a list of debts when you meet with the attorney.
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