What Is the Role of the Personal Representative of an Estate vs. the Executor?

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In many states, the role and use of the terms "personal representative" and "executor" are interchangeable, with no real difference in duties and responsibilities. However, an executor is an individual or fiduciary institution named by the decedent in the last will and testament. A personal representative may also be an administrator named by the probate court to handle estate administration for a decedent dying intestate, or without a will.

Personal Representative and Executor

While an executor is a personal representative, a personal representative is not necessarily an executor. The executor must notify all heirs and beneficiaries named in the will. If the personal representative is appointed to administer an intestate estate, he must provide the probate court with the names and addresses of all the decedent's next of kin. The decedent's estate is distributed according to the laws of intestate succession for the particular state. While the intestacy succession laws of all states relate to marital and blood relationships of the decedent, the percentage of the estate going to spouses or children varies according to the jurisdiction.

Probate Procedure

The executor must bring the original will and a certified copy of the death certificate to the probate court in the county in which the decedent resided. The executor is then formally appointed and sworn in, and the court issues letters testamentary, documents needed for estate administration. If the decedent died intestate, a family member is often appointed the personal representative by the probate court. In intestacy, the probate court issues letters of administration rather than letters testamentary, but the documents provide similar authority.

Duties and Responsibilities

The personal representative or executor must collect and protect all assets titled solely in the decedent's name, pay creditors out of the estate's assets, inventory all of the decedent's real estate and personal property and establish the fair market value at the time of death and hire all professionals related to the estate, such as attorneys, appraisers and accountants. He must also apply to the Internal Revenue Service for a employer identification number for the estate. The decedent's Social Security number cannot be used for estate purposes. He must file the decedent's final tax return, paying any monies due, and file and pay any taxes due on federal and state estate tax returns.

Estate Closure

Once all of the decedent's and estate debts are paid and tax returns filed, the executor or personal representative gives a final accounting to the probate court. Depending on the amount of assets or complexity of the estate, the period from opening of probate to closing the estate may range from months to years. Once the court approves the final accounting, the executor or personal representative distributes remaining assets to either beneficiaries named in the will or heirs according to the laws of intestate succession and the estate is closed.


About the Author

A graduate of New York University, Jane Meggitt writes regularly for various legal blogs. Her work has appeared in LegalZoom, USA Today and many other publications.