When most people think about estate planning, they spend a long time considering how they want to leave their assets. However, if you do not put the same amount of thought into choosing the personal representative who will administer the estate, you may be putting your envisioned dispositions at risk.
A personal representative, also commonly called an executor, fulfills several serious responsibilities in making sure probate goes smoothly and your assets are distributed according to your wishes. He or she can - and should - have the assistance of a qualified attorney; ultimately, however, he or she should possess the characteristics to do the job properly.
What will the personal representative do
Some major responsibilities of a personal representative include filing for probate, inventorying the estate's assets, settling legitimate debts, distributing assets according to the provisions in your will and submitting an accounting of all estate transactions. He or she will also represent the estate in any litigation, including debt disputes, wrongful death suits or challenges to the will.
You need someone with the capacity to perform all these tasks correctly. The personal representative should have the organization and attention to detail to meet filing deadlines, submit proper documentation and make an accurate and complete inventory of all assets. If you have extensive or complicated assets such as a business, you may prefer someone with relevant business knowledge and experience who will understand how to handle these matters. While your representative does not have to possess a full understanding of the legal issues involved, ideally, he or she will know enough to speak with an attorney when necessary.
Consider also the emotional components of handling estate matters. You need someone who will not feel conflicted about following the provisions in your will. The representative may also face negative reactions and conflict from family members who may feel the will does not give them what they want.
Finally, administering an estate can take substantial time and energy. Think about the prospective representative's general state of health, age, and other responsibilities. As these things change, you should include your choice of personal representative in the issues you review periodically along with the other parts of your estate plan.