You have been named as “Personal Representative” in a Will. What does that mean?

You receive a phone call from a loved one day and they tell you, “Congratulations, I have named you as Personal Representative of my estate.” You feel honored that they thought of you, but you have no idea what that even means nor do you have any idea where to start when the time comes for you to act in such a capacity.

What is a Personal Representative?

A “Personal Representative,” (commonly referred to as an “Executor”) is a person, persons, or even a corporate entity named in a Will who has the authority to handle a Decedent’s probate assets upon their death. An individual’s Will identifies who they nominate and appoint as Personal Representative. If an individual dies without an estate plan, then Minnesota Statutes § 524.3-203 identifies who has the priority of appointment to serve as a Personal Representative.

The Personal Representative is responsible for gathering and preserving the estate of the Decedent by distributing the Decedent’s assets to the beneficiaries pursuant to the wishes defined in the Decedent’s estate planning documents, or if the decedent dies without an estate plan, pursuant to Minnesota laws of intestacy.

What are the specific duties and responsibilities of a personal representative?

Before a Personal Representative can begin acting on behalf of an estate, they must be appointed by the Court. In order to be appointed by the Court, the nominated Personal Representative needs to file a Petition (in the case of a Formal Probate) or an Application (in the case of an Informal Probate).

Once a Personal Representative is appointed by the Court and the Letters Testamentary (appointed through the Decedent’s Will) or Letters of General Administration (appointed through the laws of intestacy) are issued, the Personal Representative then prepares an inventory of the estate, administers the assets, and prepares an accounting for those assets. Generally speaking, the duties and responsibilities of a Personal Representative include, but are not limited to the following:

(i) Gathering, collecting, and preserving the probate assets of the estate for preparation of an Inventory;

(ii) collecting and accounting for all debts and liabilities of the Decedent at the time of death;

(iii) notifying any known creditors or claimants and settling of valid claims against the estate;

(iv) preparing a final accounting of all the assets of the estate, including any gains or losses on those assets since the Decedent’s date of death; (v) distributing said assets of the estate, whether in cash or in-kind, based on the provisions in the Decedent’s Will or the Minnesota laws of intestacy;

(vi) preparing and filing any applicable tax returns of the estate and of the Decedent (i.e., Individual Income Tax Return (Form 1040), Gift Tax Returns (Form 709), Fiduciary Income Tax Returns for Estates and Trusts (Form 1041), and Estate Tax Returns (Form 706)); and (vii) filing the appropriate pleadings with the probate court.

The will says the personal representative is a “fiduciary.” What does that mean?

As previously mentioned, the Personal Representative is the individual or entity tasked with settling the estate of a deceased individual after their death. In the legal world, the Personal Representative is also referred to as a “fiduciary.” Holding a fiduciary role means a professional relationship of trust has been established, and that person or entity now has a duty to legally and ethically represent others in their best interest.

In the case of an estate, a Personal Representative has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries under a Will or the heirs of an intestate estate. This essentially means the Personal Representative must abide by the applicable law and administer the estate with the best interests of the beneficiaries in mind. Furthermore, the Personal Representative has a duty to administer the estate with care and efficiency, they must consider the interests of the heirs and devisees of the estate, and must do so fairly and without favoring one devisee or heir over another. Any breach of a Personal Representative’s fiduciary duties may subject them to removal as Personal Representative, or even civil and criminal penalties depending on the circumstances.

Talk to an Experienced Attorney

Being nominated a Personal Representative of an estate can be a very demanding and laborious job, and involves many different and intricate processes and procedures. Working with experienced probate attorneys can eliminate many of the challenges that are involved in administering an estate, and can ensure your loved one’s estate is administered appropriately and consistent with their wishes.