Appointment as Personal Representative Need Not be a Personal Burden

Settling an Estate with the Help of an Attorney

By: Estate and Elder Law Services

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Estate and Elder Law Services regularly advises Executors, Trustees and Administrators in their duties after the death of a friend or loved one.    Executors, commonly referred to as Personal Representatives, are usually engaged in the settlement of the Estate for approximately a year, and their list of responsibilities can be quite daunting.   The following list highlights the primary responsibilities of a Personal Representative:

  1. Marshal and manage the decedent’s assets
  2. Pay the decedent’s debts and final taxes
  3. Report to the Register of Will Office of the following:
    1. The assets of the decedent valued as of the date of death
    2. Expenses of the Estate
    3. The assets remaining in the hands of the Executor after the Estate expenses have been paid
  4. Give notice to beneficiaries and creditors
  5. Sell real estate or manage real estate until it is distributed to beneficiaries
  6. Distribute the balance of the assets per the terms of the will or via intestate succession

Hiring an attorney to assist in the Estate settlement can save the Personal Representative an exorbitant amount of time, and can also shorten the overall length of time that the Estate remains open, which ultimately saves the Estate money.

For instance, an attorney can usually arrange for the Estate to be opened, administered and closed at the Register of Wills Office without the need for the Personal Representative to ever step foot in its door.   If the Personal Representative is not represented by an attorney, he or she will need to schedule appointments at the Register of Wills Office for each vital step in the estate settlement process, and those appointments are often scheduled weeks out.

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Additionally, an attorney representing the Estate drafts all of the filings required by the Register of Wills Office, which drastically decreases the risk of errors in the filings and ultimate rejection of the document by the Register of Wills.   The attorney assists the Personal Representative in the review and analysis of the distributive provisions of the Will, the preparation of distribution schedules for the beneficiaries, and assists with correspondence with beneficiaries regarding the Estate settlement.

Personal Representatives have a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of an Estate, which means that a Personal Representative must act with loyalty and in the best interest of the Estate beneficiaries.   A Personal Representative can be held personally liable to the Estate beneficiaries if the Estate assets are wasted, improperly managed or distributed too early without the satisfaction of Estate creditors.

Imagine distributing assets to Estate beneficiaries, then receiving valid and timely notice that the decedent owed thousands of dollars to a credit card company.   If the beneficiaries do not return the money, the Personal Representative is personally liable to the credit card company.   The advice and assistance of an attorney can prevent all of that potential risk.

Many Personal Representatives ask if the attorney’s fees must be paid from their own pocket.   Absolutely not!  The Estate pays the attorney’s fees associated with the Estate settlement.    If you are facing an Estate settlement complication or issue, or if you have recently been appointed as a Personal Representative of an Estate, the attorneys at Estate and Elder Law Services are able to help.

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