A personal representative, also known as executor, has a number of key responsibilities as the administrator of an estate. You have a duty to the person who has died to carry out his wishes, as stated in the will. You also have a duty to the beneficiaries of the estate to put their interests ahead of your own and act with integrity and honesty. Some estates are easy to administer. However, estates that involve lots of assets, creditors and tax liabilities, might not be settled for two years or so.
If you are named as the personal representative in a will, your first responsibility is to arrange for the funeral and burial of the deceased. Then it is time to find and manage the estate's assets. This can be easy, if the deceased kept excellent records, or it can be extremely complex. An estate can consist of bank accounts, documents in safety deposit boxes, real estate, personal property and more. You'll search for insurance policies, pension plans and retirement accounts and any other contracts that might yield assets. If there is personal property that is not directed to a specific beneficiary in the will, you will have to sell it and add the proceeds to the estate.
Read More: Duties for a Co-Executor of a Will
Once you have collected all of the assets to the estate, your duty is to pay all of the deceased person's bills. This will include funeral expenses and hospital expenses not covered by insurance. There will be some administrative duties as well, such as arranging to shut off the electricity and cancel cable service if no one is left living in the home.
Another fundamental duty is to pay any taxes owned by the deceased and his estate. If the estate is valued at more than $5 million, as of 2012, there will be a federal estate tax and possibly a state estate tax to pay. There may be personal taxes, federal or state, owed on income generated during the last year of the deceased's life. If the tax situation is complicated, you should seek the help of a professional to sort it out.
Distributing the Assets to the Beneficiaries
You should distribute the remaining assets of the estate as soon as possible, advises the Denver Bar Association. You can make partial distributions at any time in the probate process as long as you're sure there will be sufficient assets left to pay all of the creditors. Once you have distributed all of the assets to the beneficiaries as specified in the will, it's time to close the estate, which is terminated upon the approval of the probate court. At that time, you will be discharged from your duties as the personal representative.
Personal representatives are entitled to compensation. Sometimes it is a percentage of the estate; sometimes it is determined or approved by the probate court that oversees the administration process.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.