The role of an Personal Representative (or an Executor) is to effectuate a deceased person’s wishes as declared in a will after he or she has passed on. The Personal Representative’s responsibilities include the distribution of assets according to the will, the maintenance of assets until the will is settled, and the paying of estate bills and debts. An old joke says that you should choose an enemy to perform the task because it is such a thankless job, even though the Personal Representative may take a percentage of the estate’s assets as a fee. The following issues should be considered when choosing an Personal Representative for one’s estate.
Competency: The Personal Representative of an estate will be going through financial and legal documents and transferring documents from the testator to the beneficiaries. If there are legal proceedings, the Personal Representative must make all necessary court appearances. There is no requirement that a testator have any financial or legal training, but familiarity with these areas does avoid the intimidation felt by lay people, and potentially saves money on professional fees.
Trustworthiness: The signature of an Personal Representative is equivalent to that of the testator of an estate. The Personal Representative has full control over all of an estate’s assets. He or she will be required to go through all of the papers of the deceased to confirm what assets are available to be distributed. The temptation to transfer assets into the Personal Representative’s own name always exists, particularly when there is a large estate. It is important to choose a person with integrity who will resist this temptation. It makes sense to utilize an individual who is an heir to fill the role to alleviate this concern.
Availability: The work of collecting rents, maintaining property, and paying debts can take more than a few hours a week. Selecting an Personal Representativewith significant obligations to work or family may cause problems if he or she does not have the time available to devote to the task. If an Personal Representative must travel great distances to address issues that arise, there will be more of a time commitment necessary, not to mention greater expenses for the estate.
Family dynamics: Selection of the wrong person to act as Personal Representative can create resentment and hostility among an estate’s heirs. A testator should be aware of how family members interact with one another and avoid picking someone who may provoke conflict. Even the perception of impropriety can lead to a lawsuit, which will serve to take money out of the estate’s coffers and delay the legitimate distribution of the estate.