After a person dies, who handles wrapping up their personal obligations, such as paying bills, selling real estate and other property? The answer is the somewhat generic term, “legal representative.” But just what does a legal representative do, what kinds are there, and how do you become one?
What is a Legal Representative?
A legal representative, or legal rep, is the person or entity who represents a person’s best interests after death. They are authorized to make decisions regarding matters related to the business and personal life of the person they represent. They handle administration of the decedent’s estate under probate law.
“Estate” is simply the legal term for all of the deceased person's belongings at the time of death, including money in the bank, jewelry and other valuables, real estate, boats, recreational vehicles and business interests.
A legal representative has “power of attorney”—meaning they have legal rights to make decisions about your belongings. To buy and sell goods, pay bills, and direct actions about anything and everything comprising your estate. They serve as the executor of your estate, and they are charged with carrying out your wishes as set forth in your will. A lawyer can help you complete an executor of estate form.
Becoming Executor of an Estate
A common type of legal representative is the executor of a deceased person's estate, which is typically named in the will. If no person or entity was named, or if the person died “intestate” (without a will), one can file to become executor through the county’s probate court where the decedent lived, or where they owned real estate if they lived elsewhere. An executor should be someone whom the decedent trusted and likely would have selected if they had named a representative.
Applying to be Estate Administrator
When a person dies without a will, probate court will appoint someone to be in charge of the estate. That person is referred to as an administrator. The duties are essentially the same as an executor, except an administrator is court appointed rather than chosen by the decedent. It might be a business partner or a friend, for example, instead of a spouse or close relative, if none exist.
You can apply to be the administrator of an estate through petitioning probate court. You must demonstrate why you are qualified, including bringing both an understanding of and written estimate of what you believe the decedent’s assets to be, and their approximate value. You will have to pay for any filing fees or copies that have to be made and sent to relatives.
Personal Representatives of Estates
"Personal representative" is used interchangeably with both executor (named as such in the will) and administrator (named by the courts to handle the estate). It’s the person in charge of someone’s estate after they die.
Authorized Representatives of Estates
An executor or administrator is an authorized representative to act on behalf of the incapacitated person or decedent, meaning they are authorized to make any and all decisions on their behalf in terms of handling of their personal affairs, property, bills, debts, payments, and other responsibilities. An entity such as a business, law firm or trustee may also be named an authorized representative, and endowed with those decision-making powers.
To avoid paperwork and associated costs, and to ensure clarity in handling your affairs, create a will that lists the person (or persons, in descending order), who will be in charge of your estate after you die. It’s important that you prepare your will according to the law in your jurisdiction so that it is not contested in any way or held up in court after your death.