Duties & Responsibilities of a Personal Representative

Dana Brewer, CFP®
Apr 14, 2022 7:00:00 AM

personal representative for estateThis article outlines some of the obligations and responsibilities of a personal representative who is working through administering a decedent’s estate. This article is not intended to offer legal advice but to outline some considerations when undertaking the role of a Personal Representative.

After a death, a named personal representative administers the decedent’s estate. This is the modern term no matter if the representative is named in a will or appointed in its absence. The representative carries out the decedent’s wishes concerning the distribution of the estate’s assets. Duties include:

Search for the Will

Check with the local court to see if the will was lodged there for safekeeping. A physical copy of the will might be found in the deceased’s home, a safe deposit box, or an attorney’s office. Once you locate the original signed will, lodge it with the probate court in the county where the deceased lived.

Search for Other Documents

As representative, you have the authority to search for other documents at the home, office, place of business, and safe deposit boxes. Such documents include, but are not limited to, burial plans, trust agreements, nuptial agreements, life insurance policies, retirement statements, tax returns, certificates of marriage, birth, and death, military records, bank statements, vehicle titles, and court filings.

Opening and Closing the Estate

Procedures for opening and closing vary by state and may be formal or informal. Informal probate can occur when there is an uncontested will and all potential heirs agree both on the identity of the named personal representative and on who the beneficiaries are. Filing takes about an hour.

Formal probate applies in the case of any disagreement or if the will cannot be found. Formal court proceedings are used to settle disputes, and formal notices of court actions are sent to all known heirs.

Even if an estate is opened informally, it may be closed formally to provide additional documentation that protects the representative. An estate does not close automatically; you must close it using one of the procedures available in your state.

Finance and Inventory

After receiving a letter of appointment from the court, you must prepare a Notice of Appointment to be sent to all known creditors and published in the newspaper for unknown creditors. You must collect and pay all proper bills, but you can dispute claims in writing within 60 days.

Prepare an accounting system to record all incoming and outgoing funds from the beginning. You must also complete a written inventory of all estate assets within 90 days. This inventory should be filled out on the court-approved form.

Paying the Family

Some states define “family allowance” for a surviving spouse or minor children, funds generally exempt from an estate’s creditors. If the family is entitled to cash allowances, the representative is responsible for allocating them.

Further Notifications

Re-register the decedent’s assets in the name of the estate to provide further notice of the death, using your letters of appointment to establish your authority and include your name as representative. This is appropriate for stocks and bonds and real estate. It is not necessary to convert all assets to cash in order to divide them. Real estate can often be retained. The representative must show prudence in managing all assets and facilitate the disposition of funds as soon as possible.

Tax Payments and Compensation

Payment of applicable taxes is a high priority for a named personal representative. This includes the decedent’s and the estate’s taxes. Taxes must be filled for decedents even if they did not file in recent years.

Personal representatives in most states may choose to access compensation from the estate’s assets. This arrangement is subject to a “reasonableness test” and requires a detailed record of tasks performed. In many cases, service is compensation-free except for out-of-pocket expenses.

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