When people think about Wills, the focus is usually on property: whether that is the house, money, cars, the old jewelry collection, or whatever else the deceased may have owned. While that is a big part of the story when it comes to estate planning, the person who is chosen to be personal representative can be just as, if not more important. Aside from designating who gets what when someone passes, the Will also designates who will be the personal representative.
So who is the *personal representative? Simply put, he/she is the designated person in a Will who is granted the authority to settle the deceased’s estate. If there is no Will, then the Court will choose the individual the Court believes is best to manage the estate according to the Florida Statutes (see below for more info on who is chosen) A Personal Representative will perform a whole list of tasks to ensure the estate is properly settled, including:
- Taking an inventory of all the assets that are in the estate;
- Paying any bills or taxes the estate owes;
- Managing and taking care of the assets whilst the estate goes through probate;
- Distributing the estate assets to the heirs and/or beneficiaries as directed in the Will; and
- Closing out the estate once probate and all other related matters have been settled.
Additionally, the personal representative must act in the best interests of the estate and must follow the instructions left in the Will, if there is one. This sounds simple in theory, but sometimes troubled family dynamics or other factors may cause a personal representative to act based off their own interests or emotions rather than in the best interests of the estate.
This high degree of responsibility and potential for conflict is why a personal representative, and who you choose to fill that role, is essential to a solid estate plan. Often a family member serves in this role, and the ideal personal representative should be someone you trust and is responsible enough to wrap up your estate as described above.
If you haven’t designated a personal representative at your death (such as in the case where you did not create a Will), a probate court will choose someone to fill that role. The Court follows the statute to give preference to certain individuals but if two similarly qualifying individuals are petitioning and there is no clear answer, the Judge may see it fit to appoint a neutral third party (which may cost the estate a considerable amount in fees) called a Curator or simply appoint a neutral as Personal Representative. A judge will try to make the best call as to who to choose, but the best person to decide who handles your estate is you!
*The personal representative is sometimes referred to as an executor/executrix or Administrator in some states – they mean the same thing as personal representative!