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Choosing a Personal Representative for Your Will

Posted by James Bendell | May 20, 2020 | 0 Comments

When working with an attorney to prepare a Will, most people will spend a great deal of time thinking about which family members they wish to leave their property to, but very little time thinking about who will be the Personal Representative of their estate upon their death.

In Kootenai County and elsewhere in Idaho, the Personal Representative is the person who, working in concert with the attorney for the estate, actually manages the assets, pays the debts, and distributes the property of the deceased according to the terms set out in the Will. In some states this person is known as the Executor or Executrix.

The job of the Personal Representative (PR) is very important. First, the PR must marshal and protect all of the assets of the estate. For example, if the deceased owned a now empty home, the PR must make sure that the utility bills are paid so that the pipes don't burst if the electricity is turned off by the electric utility company. The PR must make a careful search to find all of the deceased's assets. This includes items that may be in bank safe deposit boxes, land located in other states, IRAs and retirement plans, bank accounts, etc.  The PR must also file an inventory of all the assets with the court, with the assistance of the estate's attorney.

A Notice to Creditors must be published in a local newspaper of general circulation, notifying potential creditors that they must formally present their claims or the debts will be forever extinguished. If a creditor's claim is presented, the PR has only a limited to time to deny the claim if it is believed to be illegitimate.

Finally, after all the creditor's have been paid, the PR must distribute the remaining assets to the persons that the deceased has named in the Will.

Unless the estate is very large, the PR does not get paid for all of this work. Of course, the attorney handling the estate will be doing much of the work, with the PR assisting.

It is often the case that persons preparing their Will simply tell their attorney to name their eldest child as the PR. Sometimes that's a good idea and sometimes it's not.  Here are the qualifications that make a good Personal Representative.

  1. The person is honest. Unfortunately, we have seen cases where the PR takes assets that should be going to a different family member.
  1. The PR must be a tidy and organized person. This is a critical. If a person is honest but has chaotic personal habits, the estate will end up a mess and cost extra money in attorney fees. 
  1. The PR must have a good relationship with other heirs and family members.
  1. The PR must have the time needed to devote to the duties of a PR.

Unless all four criteria are met, that person should not be chosen as the PR. In such cases it may be more practical to name an accountant or other professional as the Personal Representative. This may add cost the probate process, but may be less costly than naming an unqualified person to be the Personal Representative.

About the Author

James Bendell

Attorney James Bendell graduated from Rutgers Law School after completing his Batchelor's Degree at the College of William and Mary. After working two years as a prosecutor, he worked for 16 years as a litigator, trying lawsuits for insurance companies. His practice is now devoted to handling dis...

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