One of the most important decisions you will make in your will is the choice of your Personal Representative or “PR”. In some states, this person is called the Executor of your estate. The position of personal representative or executor is a position of trust. This person owes a duty to your estate and to beneficiaries of the estate to act in the best interest of the estate. Self-dealing is not allowed. A personal representative must be loyal to the estate and honest. Additionally, a personal representative must have knowledge of basic accounting and be able to read and understand probate court rules. The PR has to be detail-oriented and have good record-keeping skills. If this sounds like job description, it is. Being PR or executor is a job. It takes time, energy and patience .
When deciding who to pick as your PR or executor, think about their convenience too. Talk to that person in advance and make sure they have the time and ability to be your personal representative. Location is also a factor. The personal representative will have to file documents and visit banks. Don’t choose someone in Seattle, Washington if your estate is here in South Carolina. If your best friend has five small children, he or she may not have time to manage your estate.
Your personal representative doesn’t have to be a beneficiary and it may be better at times to choose someone who is not a beneficiary. You can choose a family member, friend, attorney or banker to be personal representative. Just make sure the person you choose agrees to serve as PR.
Duties of the PR.
A personal representative must prepare an application or petition and then file an inventory listing all probate property and sometimes non-probate property. Personal representatives must also prepare and file accountings and proposals for distribution. He or she must send notice to all heirs and beneficiaries. There are forms and deadlines – and then more forms and deadlines. A personal representative is responsible for the assets of the estate and must answer to the probate court and other beneficiaries about his or her management of the estate. A personal representative will need to be knowledgeable enough and well-spoken enough to interact with banks, creditors, the probate court, and possibly stock transfer companies.
Don’t choose someone who is unsuitable for any reason. If you have a child who has never managed money properly or has a drug or alcohol addiction, don’t list that child in your will as your personal representative! If you have a child who has been in jail for a crime of dishonesty, like check fraud or identity theft, don’t pick that child as your personal representative either! (Also, don’t add that child to your bank account or give that child a power of attorney! More about this in another post.)
You would think the above would be a no-brainer but it is amazing how many times parents choose the worst possible child to be a personal representative or have power of attorney. Why is this? Is it pressure (undue influence) from the child, denial on the part of the parent, or the parent “not wanting to hurt feelings?” I don’t know. But I do know that listing the black sheep of the family as your personal representative won’t make him or her suddenly responsible. It will only cause problems and could result in your other children losing their inheritance.
If you want more information about choosing a personal representative or creating your individual estate plan, contact me at Brockmann Law.