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What is the Role of a Personal Representative?

Posted by Zach Dana on January 12, 2017

Paper with "I Agree" and checkbox

Paper with "I Agree" and checkbox

“The last will and testament of Frederica Evelyn Stilwell Cook, who died 9 January 1925, age 68, is thought to be the longest will ever filed for probate.  The will was 1,066 pages (95,940 words) and occupied four gilt-edged, leatherbound volumes.”

While it is unlikely that you will ever have to administer a 1,066 page will, it is important that you understand the role of a personal representative.  You should know what the responsibilities of a representative are so you can nominate the best person for the job for your estate plan as well as understand the obligations if you are ever asked to fill this role.  An attorney for wills or trusts can assist you in the proper planning and execution of your estate plan to make sure the right person is in the role of personal representative.

What is a Personal Representative?

A personal representative can be appointed by a person using a will or trust or by the court if no will or trust exists.  In Arizona, a pre-established succession is used to designate a personal representative, starting with a living spouse if one is available.  A personal representative in the state of Arizona is responsible for overseeing the entire processing of the deceased’s estate.

What are the Requirements of a Personal Representative?

A personal representative must meet several court mandated requirements.  He or she must be able and willing to carry out all of the necessary responsibilities.  If you are working with an attorney for wills and trusts and need to name a personal representative, it is important that you select someone that will follow your estate document and protect the best interest of your estate.  You should select a person that you trust and that is willing to bear the burden of the role.  Depending on the estate, the time and effort required could be substantial.

What Does a Personal Representative Do?

A personal representative has many responsibilities that need to be carried out in order for the estate to be closed.  In the state of Arizona, the personal representative must first submit paperwork to establish his or her role as the personal representative and the acceptance of this role.  A personal representative’s responsibilities are numerous:

  • In the state of Arizona, the personal representative is required to notify the heirs of his/her appointment by first class mail.
  • The representative is also required to inventory the assets and property of the estate within 90 days. This inventory should include the value of the property as of the date of the decedent’s death and how the property is held i.e. as community or separate property.  The personal representative may hire an appraiser to assist him or her as long as the appraiser is not directly interested in the disbursement of the estate and as long as the appraiser’s work and contact information is disclosed to the court.
  • The personal representative is responsible for any documenting and managing any additional income, such as rental income for the estate.
  • Publish notice to creditors once a week for three consecutive weeks. Debts may be claimed for up to four months.
  • Outstanding debts must be verified and paid from the estate.
  • Once all assets and debts have been inventoried and processed, the estate must be distributed to the beneficiaries as dictated by the will, trust or state law.
  • The personal representative must file a final tax return on behalf of the estate.
  • The estate must be closed with the court.

This list is a brief summary of each of the personal representative’s duties.  Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, a personal representative’s job could be fairly straightforward or incredibly difficult.  The good news is a personal representative is permitted to enlist help.  An attorney can be hired, at the expense of the estate, to assist a personal representative.

There are many legally binding timelines and laws that directly impact the role of the personal representative.  For instance, if the decedent’s will or trust goes through unsupervised probate, the court allows the personal representative the freedom to administer the estate.

If the will or trust is required to go through supervised probate, the personal representative will be required to obtain the court’s approval prior to executing any distributions, payments or major decisions.  These types of laws and legalities can make it very beneficial to have the assistance of an experienced attorney throughout the process.

What is a Personal Representative’s Role in Relation to an Attorney?

If you are creating your estate plan, an attorney for wills or trusts can help you establish the distribution of your estate and nominate an appropriate personal representative.

If you are an acting personal representative, an attorney’s role is to walk you through the probate process, help you meet all court mandated deadlines and effectively close the estate.  In both instances, an attorney works with you to make sure that the estate is planned and executed as the decedent intended and in the most efficient way possible. Learn more about our attorneys and how they can help you.