What To Know If You Are The Personal Representative Of An Estate

BY: Law Offices of Andrew Cohen | February 16, 2022

A personal representative, for estate planning purposes, is the person or professional fiduciary that has the responsibility to ensure that the affairs of a decedent are properly settled and that property is transferred according to will or law.

A personal representative serves as the manager of the estate until such time as the estate is ready to be closed. The contents of the estate must be handled with loyalty and care for the benefit of those who will eventually receive the property. The beneficiaries of an estate have the right to hold the personal representative accountable if estate property is mismanaged.

At the Law Offices of Andrew Cohen, our Santa Clarita estate planning attorney makes sure that plans are implemented to your wishes are followed and the personal representative has can perform their duties competently and efficiently.

How a Personal Representative Gets Appointed

When a person dies with a Will, the Will appoint someone who will serve as personal representative of the decedent’s estate. A judge will need to officially recognize a personal representative after a Will is submitted to probate.  A Trust will name a Trustee to handle the Trust estate.

When a person dies without a will, the contents and value of the estate dictate who can be the personal representative.

  • Simplified transfer process – Estates that consist of only personal property and are valued under a certain dollar amount may be eligible to be transferred with minimal court involvement. In these cases, a close relative of the decedent or the person that is inheriting most of the property may serve as an informal personal representative.
  • Probate court – If an estate does not qualify for a simplified transfer, formal probate is filed and the court appoints a personal representative from a list of preferences found in the California Probate Code.

The Responsibilities of a Personal Representative

The following are the responsibilities and specific duties of a personal representative in California.

  • locate and inventory all of the decedent’s property
  • take possession of all property – except property in the possession of its presumptive heir
  • have the property appraised
  • notify creditors and pay debts
  • keep surplus cash growing
  • keep estate assets separate from personal assets
  • prepare a final accounting
  • distribute property pursuant to a final order of distribution

A Personal Representative has a Legal Duty

California law requires personal representatives to carry out their duties using ‘ordinary care and diligence’. If a personal representative underperforms, they can be held personally responsible for the loss in value to the estate caused by their failure to act appropriately.

Personal representatives are required by law to post a bond to protect the beneficiaries of the estate and ensure proper performance of their duties. The bond requirement can be waived by a decedent’s will or by the joint agreement of the estate beneficiaries. However, the probate court still retains the authority to impose the bond requirement if there is good cause to do so.

Why Personal Representatives Hire Attorneys For Assistance

Most people who serve as personal representatives have never done so before. They have an important job to do and they have no prior experience doing it. Estate attorneys know the process well and can provide guidance to the personal representative and help expedite the proceedings for everyone’s benefit.

Probate lawyers also have experience dealing with some of the collateral issues that can arise while the estate is going through the transfer process such as disagreements over property ownership or conflicts between estate beneficiaries.

The Santa Clarita estate planning and probate attorney at the Law Offices of Andrew Cohen helps clients prepare estate plans and assists, personal representatives, when it’s time to settle estates. Our goal is to make the process as easy as we can for everyone involved and get matters resolved as quickly as possible. If we can help you with estate planning or settlement, call our office at 661-481-0100 to schedule a free consultation or contact us here.

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