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Personal Representative

A personal representative refers to an individual appointed to manage a decedent's estate. This person is often the surviving spouse or family member, but could also be a probate or estate attorney, or professional estate planner.

The personal representative can be appointed within a decedent's last will and testament or through probate court. Probate is required within the U.S. to settle estates not protected by a trust. The will is used to provide directives for estate settlement and distribution of inheritance property. If there is no will at the time of death, estates are settled according to state probate law.

The duties of the probate personal representative will vary depending on estate value, whether or not a legal will was executed, and how well family members get along. If the estate is small and the decedent executed a will, estate settlement usually occurs within a few months. When estates consist of titled property, business assets, and valuable personal belongings or when no will exists, probate can extend for several months or years.

The first step of probate estate management is to submit a copy of the last will and testament through the court. If no will is available, a copy of the death certificate is provided. At this point, a probate case number is assigned.

Some states require personal representatives to be confirmed by a probate judge. When appointed estate administrators reside out of town or when estates are valued over $50,000 they may be required to obtain a surety bond. It is best to consult with a lawyer to ensure estate management duties adhere to state law. Otherwise, personal representatives could place their self at risk for legal persecution.

After estate administrators have obtained necessary credentials they must establish an estate bank account to record all financial transcations. Probate laws will dictate whether transactions must be approved by the court or not. Some states require personal representatives to have every transaction approved while others allow estate settlement to occur without court intervention.

Personal representatives are responsible for securing all property belonging to the decedent unless property automatically transfers to a surviving spouse. Valuable property such as real estate, motor vehicles, artwork and jewelry must be appraised to determine date-of-death value.

Outstanding debts must be satisfied before inheritance property can be distributed. If the estate does no have adequate funds to pay outstanding debts, the personal representative may be required to sell assets. This is a common occurrence when decedent's held a mortgage note on real estate.

Once all aspects of estate management are fulfilled, inheritance property is distributed to rightful heirs and beneficiaries. Recipients are required to provide a signed and notarized statement acknowledging receipt of inheritance gifts. After statements are presented to the court, the personal representative is relieved of their duties.

Personal representatives act as a guardian for the estate. When designating the estate administrator within a will, it is best to discuss the position with the person beforehand. Estate administration duties can be time-consuming and emotionally difficult to deal with during the grieving process.

The person chosen to represent an estate should be good with finances and capable of making important decisions under stress. When family strife exists, it may be better to designate a probate attorney as the estate executor.