Losing a loved one is a tragedy that everyone will eventually face. It can be overwhelming to cope with a loss, not to mention the stress of learning and managing your responsibilities as Personal Representative (PR). But, there’s no need to fret – we are here to walk you through your responsibilities.
First, it is important for you to know that you are not obligated to serve as personal representative solely because you were nominated to do so. While not excessively complex, the job generally requires a fair amount of work and time, especially in the first few months after death. If you don’t feel up to the task for whatever reason, you are not obligated to act. Should you decide to decline the nomination, the second nominated Personal Representative may act, or if there is no such person listed, the court will appoint someone else and you can be free from the responsibilities.
I’m Committed. Now What?
If, however, you are committed to serving as the best personal representative you can be, you must file an application or petition with the Probate Court in the county in which the decedent lived at the time of death. The petition allows you to open an estate and officially be appointed as Personal Representative. This is a critical step because simply being nominated as personal representative does not automatically give you the legal authority to do the job. The Court will then open the estate and provide you with a Letter of Authority, which gives you court-ordered legal authority to act on behalf of the estate.
One of the duties you have as Personal Representative is determining whether the decedent had a will. If so, you must review, interpret, and provide copies of it to the beneficiaries and the decedent’s heirs-at-law. Similarly, a hearing may be conducted so the Judge can determine the will’s validity.
Additionally, you must gather the estate’s assets and determine their worth. To do so, you will need to check the decedent’s safety deposit box, their mail, financial records, etc., and determine what assets they had, as well as what other benefits are payable to the estate, if any. Some benefits include life insurance, retirement benefits, or the like. You will be required to file an inventory with the court within 91 days of officially being appointed as Personal Representative. An inventory is just what it sounds like – a document listing all of the decedent’s assets. The Decedent’s final tax returns and/or a tax return for the estate may need to be prepared and filed as well.
As Personal Representative, you are also a fiduciary of the estate. As a fiduciary of the Estate, you must also provide undivided loyalty, impartiality, and care to the heirs and any creditors. This necessitates maintaining accurate records of all assets under your control, as well as all income and expenses of the estate. Depending on whether the Decedent had creditors, you may need to deal with them as well.
You’re Not Alone
If you fail to do any of the above tasks properly, the probate court can suspend your power to act as Personal Representative, remove you all together, or worse. Now that you know much of what the job entails, you may be asking yourself, “why would anyone sign up for this job?” Here at the Probate Pro, we’ve been handling estates and representing Personal Representatives for decades. We have a tried-and-true process for helping you break down the responsibilities into manageable tasks over a period of time so that the process is not only simple, but also understandable.
If you have any questions or specific issues regarding the responsibilities of a personal representative, or the administration of an Estate, please do not hesitate to contact one of our estate planning attorneys at 248.399.3300 or Info@TheProbatePro.com.