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What is the role of a Personal Representative?

When an individual (a testator) creates a will, there must be a designated person who will be responsible for carrying out the testator’s wishes outlined in the will when the testator dies. This individual is called the Personal Representative.  In other states, he or she may be called an executor. 

Testators in most cases name a spouse, child, close family member or friend as Personal Representative. Any person named as Personal Representative of a person’s estate has, under the law, a fiduciary duty to act in good faith and diligence in executing the obligations set forth in the will. 

Common duties of an executor 

Depending on the individual’s estate or provisions of the will, the executor’s obligations will vary. He or she may have nominal responsibilities or significant obligations. 

Common duties of the testator include: 

  • Deposit the will with the probate court in the county where the decedent resided
  • Hire a probate attorney to help them administer the estate
  • Performing an inventory of the testator’s debts, and notifying the testator’s creditors, like credit cards and mortgage companies, of the existence of an estate
  • Performing an inventory of the testator’s assets and protecting them until distribution to heirs or beneficiaries
  • Filing the list of assets with the court
  • Determining who are the beneficiaries
  • Distributing the property outlined in the will to the right parties 

Reaching out for legal help 

Many nominated Personal Representatives fail to realize the extent of their responsibilities until the time comes to read the will and investigate the testator’s personal matters. If court appointed, they will have a fiduciary duty to all of the beneficiaries, to the court, and to the creditors to act lawfully. 

Perhaps the estate is complex and involves substantial assets, like investment property, stocks, retirement portfolios or real estate owned in a different state. Perhaps there is a dispute among beneficiaries regarding property distribution or even the validity of the will. 

Whatever the case, executors are always encouraged to seek the help of a probate attorney who can help answer specific questions and provide guidance on the process. Getting help from someone who will know exactly what to do can lessen the anxiety and stress executors often feel.

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