What role does the personal representative play under a will?

The Personal Representative (‘Executor’/’Executrix’ or ‘Administrator/Administratrix’) is the person you name (nominate) in your Will to handle your estate. You can also name Alternatives if for some reason your chosen Personal Representative can’t act for you. If your Personal Representative and all the Alternatives are unable to act, the probate court will name a person to fill this role. The Personal Representative is entitled to receive a fee for these services from the money in the estate. The amount of that fee varies from state to state.

The main tasks of a Personal Representative are to:

(1) Obtain the Will;

(2) Obtain certified copies of the death certificate; (3) Find the beneficiaries named in the Will and all other people who must be notified about the Will (such as children of the decedent who aren’t named in the Will); (4) Determine if there are any probate assets;

(5) File a petition with the probate court if probate is required under the laws of the state; (6) Identify, gather, and inventory the assets of the deceased;

(7) Receive payments due the estate, including interest, dividends, and other income (e.g., unpaid salary, vacation pay, and other company benefits);

(8) Set up a checking account for the estate;

(9) Figure out who is going to get what and how much under the Will;

(10) Value or appraise the estate’s assets;

(11) Give legal notice to potential creditors (the procedure and deadlines for creditors to file claims vary from state to state);

(12) Investigate the validity of all claims against the estate;

(13) Pay funeral bills, outstanding debts, and valid claims;

(14) Pay the expenses of administrating the estate;

(15) Handle various paperwork, such as discontinuing utilities and charge cards, and notifying Social Security, Civil Service, and Veterans Administration of the death;

(16) File and pay income and estate taxes;

(17) Distribute the remaining property in accordance with the instructions provided in the deceased’s Will; and

(18) Close probate.

The Personal Representative doesn’t have to do all of this him or herself. A Personal Representative is allowed to hire a probate lawyer when necessary and pay the legal fees out of the estate.

Since your Personal Representative is given access to all property in the probate estate, the selection of a competent and trustworthy person is very important. It is wise to nominate someone who has business experience, intelligence, and the utmost integrity and honesty to serve as your Personal Representative.

Most states require the Personal Representative to post a surety bond covering his/her actions. This requirement can be waived if your Will states that you want your nominated Personal Representative to serve without bond.