The person whom elder law attorneys have long referred to as the “executor” has now been given an alternative name when managing your estate. Known as the “personal representative”, this person is appointed by either the person doing the estate planning or by the courts when there was no one named in a will. The personal representative has a very big job of finishing up the decedent’s business, such as taking care of taxes and keeping the bills paid; not to mention the much more commonly recognized job of making sure the decedent’s wishes are followed when it comes to distributing assets.
If you are named as a personal representative here, it’s likely that you will need the guidance and expertise of a wills and trusts attorney. Your loved one may have recommended one in the will, although you usually have a choice in whom you hire. This lawyer will help you better understand your role as a personal representative and can offer considerable advice on how to execute your duties and protect as much of the inheritance as possible from court costs, taxes, etc.
Your Job as Personal Representative
There are several responsibilities that come along with being a personal representative, and there are personal qualities which may make one person a better choice than others. For example, a good personal representative will have a sense of fairness and will be able to remain impartial when it comes to following the decedent’s instructions. You will bring these qualities to the table while you:
- Find all parts of the estate and do a complete inventory of assets
- Pay the bills of the estate while it is being processed
- Manage the estate’s assets as required throughout the process
- Distribute assets to heirs and beneficiaries according to the decedent’s wishes
- Close the estate when everything is ready
The courts don’t necessarily have to accept you as the personal representative just because you were nominated in the will, but even before that process has started, you are allowed to carry out certain written instructions left by the decedent, especially when it comes to the body and funeral arrangements. You may also want to get a start on gathering and protecting assets while working to locate the decedent’s original will (often kept in the home, safe deposit box, or with the attorney).
There will be other documents to track down, as well such as funeral plans, wills and trusts, pre-nuptial agreements, insurance policies, retirement fund statements, bankruptcy papers, unpaid bills, and so much more. Your elder law attorney can give you a much more comprehensive list to get you going in the right direction so you can ensure that every aspect of the estate has been considered.