After the death of a loved one, a personal representative may be appointed to help deal with the estate of the deceased. While this person is often a loved one, they may also just as well be a friend or business associate of the deceased. As such, it's important that loved ones understand the role of the personal representative and how to work with them. Here is what you need to know.
The Personal Representative Has To Be Approved or Appointed
The time period right after a death in the family can be trying. As such, it could be helpful to have someone in charge. Unfortunately, a personal representative has little to no power to act until they are approved by the probate court, which could take a week or more. If the deceased did not indicate who they wanted to be personal representative, the probate court will appoint someone to take on that role. In the meantime, it is up to the family to carry out the wishes of the deceased in regard to burial preferences. However, you should leave the estate property distribution and bill-paying for later on. That is the responsibility of the personal representative.
Work Closely With the Personal Representative
As a loved one, you have certain rights when it comes to working with the personal representative. They must keep you apprised of what is going on with probate and they must work alongside you and the rest of the family when performing certain tasks. For example, some wills leave everything to be divided between two or more parties. When that happens, it is the family who should decide who takes possession of the property and not the personal representative (unless they are also named as a beneficiary).
Understanding Fiduciary Responsibility
The above term seems intimidating but it just means that the personal representative is tasked with taking fair and ethical actions. When it comes to overseeing estates, the personal representative cannot act in ways that benefit themselves primarily at the detriment of other concerned parties. For example, they cannot take or sell estate assets for their own enrichment.
When Things Seem Wrong, Take Action
Most personal representatives do their jobs to the best of their ability but it's important to keep a watchful eye on things. If you note actions by the personal representative that seems unfair, fraudulent, or just plain wrong, take action. Speak first to the estate lawyer. If you are still worried, consider hiring your own lawyer for help with an estate issue.
To learn more about the duties and the limits of a personal representative's power, speak to an estate attorney. An estate planning attorney can provide more information.