The Basics of Being a Personal Representative in the Probate Process
Whether you are chosen by a Will or appointed by a probate court, being the Personal Representative of an estate is a major responsibility that is not to be taken lightly. Here are The Basics of Being a Personal Representative in the Probate Process.
Is a Personal Representative the Same as an Executor?You may have heard the term Executor before, which is often used in Wills to refer to the individual who is responsible for carrying out the wishes set forth therein. Administrator is also sometimes used to describe the same role. However, nowadays the preferred term in Florida is "Personal Representative," which refers to the same role and function. Otherwise, all three words are essentially interchangeable.
Who Can be a Personal Representative?There is very broad discretion permitted when choosing a Personal Representative: any adult can serve provided that they have never been convicted of a crime and are of sound enough mind and physical capability to carry out their duties. One or more Alternative Representatives can also be named in case the first one is unable or unwilling to serve.
If someone dies without a Will appointing a Personal Representative, the estate is classified in probate law as "intestate" and your Personal Representative will be chosen by the Court in the following order of succession:
- Surviving spouse
- Adult children
- The person selected by a majority of the heirs in interest
- The heir closest in degree or the heir determined by the court to be best-qualified
Non-Florida residents can also serve as a Personal Representative so long as they are the decedent's spouse, siblings, parents, children, or certain other close relatives.
Note that regardless of whether you are named in a Will or appointed by a court, your designation as Personal Representative will commence only when the probate court issues "Letters of Administration" authorizing you to act on behalf of the estate.
What Exactly Does a Personal Representative Do?Your primary role will be to wind down the decedent's estate in accordance with their Will (or probate rules). This will entail the following tasks and duties:
- Obtaining the Will
- Acquiring certified copies of the death certificate
- Identifying and locating the beneficiaries named in the Will, as well as individuals not named in the Will but who must legally be notified (such as the decedent's children)
- Determining whether they are any probate assets
- Identifying, allocating, and making an inventory of the decedent's assets
- Setting up a checking account for the estate (called a restricted depository)
- Giving legal notice to potential creditors
- Determining which heirs get what assets and how much
- Investigating any claims made against the estate
- Paying any valid claims, as well as outstanding debts and funerary expenses
- Paying income and/or estate taxes
These are just some of the responsibilities you will have as Personal Representative. Every probate estate is different and may have specific needs and challenges, such as disputes between heirs or multiple claims being made against the estate. It will be your responsibility to resolve these matters and make sure everything is squared away before you wind down the estate and close out the probate proceedings.
Why Should I Hire a Probate Attorney?As you can see, being appointed Personal Representative entails many different responsibilities and procedures, often spanning six to eight months or more. You need not handle these weighty duties on your own: we have proudly assisted numerous clients in closing estates quickly and effectively. From the moment the Letters of Administration are issued, we will be with you every step of the probate process.