So You’re a Personal Representative. Now What?

/ February 8, 2011

Lady Reading - iStockMost people that are nominated as a Personal Representative of a decedent’s estate do not know the duties – or the amount of time – that come along with the nomination. In short, the main responsibility of the Personal Representative is to take possession of and manage, protect and preserve the assets of the decedent. In reality, this responsibility takes more time and organization than you might expect.

Selection of the Personal Representative

If the decedent left a Will, the Personal Representative is named in the Will.  If the nominated person in the Will is willing and able to serve, then that individual will be the Personal Representative. If the nominated person is unwilling or unable to service, then, typically, there is one or two successor Personal Representatives named in a Will as back-ups.

In Minnesota, if the decedent died intestate or if none of the nominated persons in the Will are able to serve as Personal Representative, then a Personal Representative can be found from the following list in order of priority:

  1. The surviving spouse of the decedent who is a devisee of the decedent
  2. Other devisees of the decedent
  3. The surviving spouse of the decedent
  4. Other heirs of the decedent
  5. Forty-five (45) days after the death of the decedent, any creditor.

Those with priority to be named Personal Representative can always renounce the nomination and nominate another person, who is willing and able to serve.

Duties of a Personal Representative

The Personal Representative must prepare and file with the Probate Court in the county of decedent’s residence a Petition, if proceeding formally, or Application, if proceeding informally. The differences between informal and formal probate are explained here. Additionally, legal notice by U.S. mail must be given to all beneficiaries named in the Will, if testate, or to all heirs-at-law as defined by Minnesota Statutes, if intestate. Plus, notice by publication in a legal newspaper must be given regardless of whether the probate is formal or informal.

Once the probate is officially opened, the Personal Representative must open an estate checking account for deposit of all income into the estate and for payment of all bills. Additionally, for tax reporting purposes, an I.R.S. tax identification number (EIN) must be obtained.

Over several months, the Personal Representative will then take an official inventory of the estate by determining all the assets and make payments on all debts of the estate. After sufficient time has passed and the Personal Representative is comfortable that all debts of the estate have been paid and that all the income of the estate has been collected, the Final Account must be prepared. Once the Final Account is in place, the Personal Representative can divide up the remaining assets in the estate between the heirs and beneficiaries as set forth by law or by the decedent’s Will.

Given the extent of the duties and to help ensure a timely resolution of a decedent’s estate, the majority of Personal Representatives retain a law firm for representation throughout the probate process. In the end, be sure that whomever you name as your Personal Representative will have the time and resources to follow through on their duties.

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