Serving as a personal representative (also known as an executor) is an important role that requires a lot of time and attention. A personal representative handles the estate of someone who has died as part of the estate administration and probate process.
An estate is the value of the property and assets a person owns at the time of death. It also includes their debts and other liabilities. A personal representative is sometimes called an executor.
A decedent’s last will and testament usually names a personal representative. If someone passes away without a will, the court usually names people who can serve in that role. A person must be appointed as a personal representative by the court before they are authorized to manage the estate of a decedent.
Once appointed, the person named as personal representative acts on behalf of the deceased. This means they oversee the personal property and real estate of the person who passed away.
Personal Representative vs. Executor
Executor is the traditional term for someone named in the will or appointed by the court to oversee the estate of the decedent. Some states, including Florida, use the term “personal representative” instead. The two words are usually interchangeable.
How Long Does Estate Administration Take?
As a personal representative, you must act according to the terms of the estate. The time it takes to handle an estate administration can vary based on the size of the estate. It can take several months to several years to pay debts and taxes, distribute assets, and close the estate.
If the estate is closed too early, the personal representative may be held responsible for any expenses owed. If the administration of the estate isn’t handled in a reasonable amount of time, the court, the heirs, or the beneficiaries of the estate may take legal action.
Personal Representative Duties and Responsibilities
The main responsibility of a personal representative of the estate is to carry out the wishes of the person who has passed. If you are appointed to administer the duties of a personal representative, you could face lawsuits if you fail to follow those duties and responsibilities.
A personal representative is responsible for carrying out these duties:
File Paperwork with Probate Court
It is important that the personal representative appointed by the probate court obtain the necessary documents. Personal representatives should file these documents with the court in the county where the deceased lived. Do this within 30 days of the date of death. The court may waive the executor’s appointment if they fail to file the paperwork in a timely manner.
A personal representative must file documents such as:
- Application for Probate of Will
- Acceptance of Appointment as Personal Representative
- Certificate of Value
- Original Will
- Original Death Certificate
A spouse, live-in partner, or another family member can file this paperwork if there is no will. After the court receives the documents, the court will issue Letters of Authority allowing the personal representative to begin carrying out the wishes of the deceased.
Notify Interested Parties
You must notify those named in the will and certain family members of the person who died of your appointment as personal representative. The court has forms that you can use. The court will also arrange to publish the notice in the local newspaper to reach any unknown creditors. Creditors have four months to make a claim against an estate.
Get an EIN
You should never use your personal Social Security number or that of the deceased for estate purposes. The decedent’s estate is a separate taxpayer. You will want to visit irs.gov and obtain a tax ID number (EIN).
Collect the Assets
Probate assets are assets of the estate the deceased owned in their name at the time of their death. Personal representatives have no authority over assets with joint owners or those that have beneficiary designations. In order to collect probate assets, you must open a new bank account for the estate. Then you must close the decedent’s financial accounts and deposit those funds into the newly opened estate account. Depending on the estate, you may be able to sell other decedents’ assets such as cars or real estate. Deposit those proceeds into the new estate account.
Be sure to keep good records while collecting the estate’s assets. You will need to prepare an inventory of the assets. The court has a form to help you with this. The inventory should include all assets owned by the individual at the time of their death and their value. All beneficiaries must receive a copy of the inventory within three months of your appointment as personal representative.
Creditors have four months to file a claim against the estate. So, you should wait four months before making any distributions to beneficiaries. Until then, pay only necessary estate expenses and bills. You will also want to pay any expenses for administering the estate, family allowances, and funeral expenses. After these payments are made, you must either pay or settle all valid claims against the estate.
File Tax Returns
You may need to file the decedent’s final income tax returns. If the estate earns income, you may also need to file a fiduciary income tax return on behalf of the estate. Most estates are not subject to federal estate taxes. It’s best to talk with an accountant if you have questions.
Prepare Final Accounting & Distribution Plan
Prepare an accounting and distribution before making any distributions from the estate. Start with the inventory of assets and include expenses of the estate. The plan of distribution decides how the estate will be divided. Be sure to send this information to the estate beneficiaries.
After the beneficiaries have agreed in writing to the plan of distribution, you should distribute the estate assets. You must follow the terms of the will. If there is no will, the assets must be distributed to family members as provided under state law.
Close the Estate
After distributing the remaining assets to the heirs and completing all other personal representative’s duties, the estate can be closed. To close an estate, submit a Sworn Statement of Personal Representative Closing Estate form to the court. Once the court has accepted the statement, the estate is closed. You are now relieved of your duties.
Does this sound like a lot? We can help.
Managing the duties of a personal representative can be time-consuming and difficult. If you’re asked to be a personal representative, don’t do it alone.
An experienced probate law and estate attorney like the team at The Estate, Trust, and Elder Law Firm can help you with the probate and estate administration process. Click here or call us at (772) 828-2588 to get started today.