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Questions and Answers Regarding Personal Representatives

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What is a Personal Representative of an estate?

A Personal Representative of an estate (also called an executor or administrator) is an individual appointed by the Court to act on behalf of a deceased person's estate. The Personal Representative's job is to settle and distribute the assets of the estate in accordance with the deceased's Will or, if there is no Will, the state's intestacy laws.

Note: individuals appointed as the agent of the deceased pursuant to a Power of Attorney sometimes assume that they have the authority to act as the Personal Representative of the estate. This is not so. Any authority granted in a Power of Attorney ceases to exist upon the death of the person who signed the Power of Attorney.

How does a person become a Personal Representative?

There are two ways an individual can become a Personal Representative. A person may be nominated as the Personal Representative in a Will. If no Personal Representative is named in the Will, or there is no Will, the law sets out a list of persons who have priority to serve as the Personal Representative.

In order to become a Personal Representative, an individual must file a petition with the Court asking to be appointed. If approved, the Court will issue an order known as Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration, which confirms the appointment and authorizes the Personal Representative to act on behalf of the estate.

What does a Personal Representative do?

The Personal Representative is responsible for wrapping up the affairs of the deceased person. Essentially, this means paying off the bills of the deceased and making sure that any remaining property is distributed to those who are entitled. If there is a Will, the personal representative makes sure that the terms of the Will are followed. If there is no Will, the Personal Representative must determine who the heirs are and in what manner the property should be distributed.

Some specific tasks that the Personal Representative must perform include: 1) notify persons with an interest in the estate of the appointment; 2) gather and secure the physical property of the deceased; 3) prepare an inventory of the estate's property and determine its value; 4) notify creditors of the deceased; 5) pay taxes; 6) determine who is entitled to receive the assets of the estate and distribute them accordingly; and 7) notify the court that the probate is complete.

What standard of care must a Personal Representative exercise in performing his or her duties?

The Personal Representative is a fiduciary who must observe the same standard of care as a trustee. A Personal Representative's performance is governed by the "prudent investor" rule. Basically, this means that the Personal Representative must exercise reasonable care, skill, and caution in performing her duties.

I have been named as a Personal Representative. Will it cost me money to serve?

A Personal Representative is entitled to be reimbursed from the assets of the estate for the costs of administering the estate. Such costs may include phone calls, copying, postage, travel, legal fees, appraisals, legal notices, filing fees, recording fees, cleaning, and shipping fees for personal property.

As a practical matter, many Personal Representatives do end up spending money out of their own pocket. Many feel obligated to carry out the last wishes of the deceased and feel uncomfortable charging the estate, especially if there are few assets to distribute.

Can I get paid to be a Personal Representative?

Yes, a Personal Representative is entitled to be paid a reasonable sum for performance of his duties. Payment is made out of the assets of the estate. There is no set hourly rate or fee. For routine matters, $20 an hour or less would probably be considered reasonable. However, the Alaska Supreme Court has stated that if a Personal Representative has special skills that are utilized in administering the estate, the Personal Representative's work may warrant a higher rate of pay.

What is a bond and does a Personal Representative need to post a bond?

A performance bond is insurance for the heirs and creditors of the estate that the Personal Representative doesn't mishandle the assets of the estate. Normally, if a person is nominated as a Personal Representative in a Will, the testator specifically waives the requirement of a bond. If there is no Will, the Personal Representative will need to post a bond unless the heirs consent to waive this requirement or the Court waives the requirement for some other reason.

What if I am appointed Personal Representative of an estate, but later decide I don’t want to serve or am unable to serve anymore. Can I quit?

Yes. An individual may resign as personal representative by filing a written resignation with the Court. However, the Court may not approve the resignation until a substitute Personal Representative is designated.

Can there be more than one Personal Representative of an estate?

Yes. However, such arrangements can be complicated by the fact that all of the Personal Representatives must agree upon any given action. If signatures are needed, each Personal Representative must sign.

Last Review and Update: Aug 02, 2010