What are the responsibilities of a personal representative?
A personal representative is an individual chosen by the testator or by a majority of the heirs to administer his or her estate.
That person is appointed through the probate court process. The duties of the personal representative are numerous and can come with personal liability if not carried out correctly.
Below are the main duties a personal representative is expected to handle.
Putting the beneficiaries or heirs first
The main concern of the deceased when the estate plan was executed was to ensure that his or her beneficiaries are cared for after his or her death.
The personal representative holds a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and heirs. This duty includes preserving the assets and making sure that all estate matters are handled in a proper and accurate manner.
The deceased or the heirs chose the personal representative because he or she trusted that this person would be able to properly take care of his or her estate, and, for this reason, this duty is not one to be taken lightly.
Identify assets in the estate
The first responsibility personal representatives face is identifying and collecting the assets of the deceased.
Most estate plans are general in their wording when talking about assets of the testator or testatrix because additional assets will likely be added following the execution of the plan.
Assets included in estates can be real estate, as well as stock investments, bank accounts, and personal property.
An inventory should be prepared listing the assets, and if the value of anything is not clearly identified, the personal representative will need to acquire appraisals of these items.
Unless the deceased was detailed-oriented and kept an inventory of his or her assets throughout that person’s lifetime, identifying all assets can be long process.
It is imperative that all assets are identified to properly close the estate. Otherwise, the estate may have to be opened later to add these omitted assets.
Identifying the deceased’s debts
The deceased will likely have debts in addition to assets.
These debts can range from mortgages, car loans, credit card debts or student loan debts. Oftentimes, the assets or money received from selling the assets must be used to pay off these debts in the order required by Georgia Statutes.
Like assets, it is imperative the personal representative identifies all debts of the deceased. Not all loans are forgiven at death; in fact, most are not.
If an estate is closed and a creditor inquires about the debt later, the estate may have to be reopened which can be an arduous and expensive process.
Paying outstanding bills
Until all debts are handled, creditors will expect to be paid at some point.
If the personal representative is attempting to sell the home, any service that is needed to keep the house in working order so that it does sale, such as electric, gas or water bills, will need to be paid monthly.
To do this, the personal representative will want to open a checking account in the name of the estate and keep a detailed and accurate accounting of all payments coming out of the estate.
Closing out the estate
The estate cannot stay open indefinitely.
Once all assets are identified and are sold or distributed to beneficiaries, and all debts are satisfied, the personal representative will then close out the estate through the court.
Once this is done, the personal representative is relieved of his or her duties and from liability.
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