The Personal Representative (known in other states as the Executor or Executrix)
is the person responsible for carrying out the wishes the decedent expressed
in his or her will. Usually, the Personal Representative is named by the
decedent in the will. However, the Personal Representative does not acquire
the actual authority to act on behalf of the estate until he or she is
officially appointed the Personal Representative by the probate judge.
The Personal Representative is a fiduciary. This means that he or she is
expected to always act in the best interests of the estate. For example,
the Personal Representative must make sure the estate assets are safe
and protected until distributed to the estate beneficiaries. Also, if
an estate asset is to be sold, the Personal Representative is responsible
for making sure it is sold for a fair price.
The Personal Representative is also in charge of identifying the creditors
of the estate and making sure that the debts and obligations of the decedent
are paid from the probate assets in accordance with the priorities and
procedures set out in the probate creditor rules.
Because the Personal Representative is a fiduciary, he or she can be personally
liable if he or she does not act in the best interests of the estate or
doesn’t properly follow the rules for paying creditors and distributing
assets to the beneficiaries. The Personal Representative must keep detailed
records of all the actions he or she takes on behalf of the estate.
Personal Representatives may employ an attorney to help guide them through
the sometimes complicated rules and procedures associated with the probate
process (and have the legal fees paid for through the estate). In fact,
in Florida, in some probate proceedings, the Personal Representative is
required to hire an attorney to assist with the probate process.
Being named a Personal Representative is an honor however, because it is
also a big responsibility, being named the Personal Representative should
not come as a surprise. It is a selection that should only be made after
a serious and frank discussion about the responsibilities involved and
a knowing acceptance by the Personal Representative of that role.