Among the important decisions we must make when writing a last will and testament is designating a personal representative to handle our affairs when we die. It’s useful to understand the terminology, duties and bonds related to this role, as well as the skills and qualities needed to serve as a personal representative.
Representative? Executor? Administrator?
These terms differ by region and circumstance, and it is not uncommon to find them used somewhat interchangeably too. According to Elder Care Direction, personal representative is generally used as an “umbrella term” for the fiduciary managing the affairs of someone who has died. When there is a will, this fiduciary may be referred to specifically as an executor; when there is no will, the court appointed fiduciary is typically referred to as an administrator. Despite the terminology subtleties and regional variations, personal representatives, executors and administrators share a common legal duty: they are fiduciaries who must avoid self-interest while acting in the best interest of the estate and its beneficiaries, in accordance with applicable state laws.
Given the significant trust placed in fiduciaries, they are often required to secure bonds guaranteeing their faithful performance. As a leading national bond provider, Colonial Surety helps personal representatives, executors and administrators in every state quickly and affordably obtain their bonds. The steps to obtaining a bond with Colonial are easy: get a quote online, fill in the information, and enter a payment method. Print or e-file the bond from anywhere, anytime.
Duties of a Personal Representative?
FindLaw explains that personal representatives must notify creditors, settle debts, communicate with beneficiaries and, ultimately, distribute the assets of the estate. Carrying out these duties generally calls on personal representatives to:
- Preserve and inventory…assets and get appraisals
- Identify and send notice to creditors and beneficiaries of the estate plan
- Set up a bank account for the estate to collect and disburse funds
- Manage, sell, or transfer your assets and investments, including real estate
- Continue, sell, transfer, or close your business if you own one
- File a final accounting for the probate court and a final income tax return with the IRS
Clearly, serving as a personal representative is not a ceremonial honor—a commitment of time and diligence is necessary. Lawyers remind us that it can take up to 18 months to settle an estate (though expedited state probate processes can help). There are forms, deadlines, and to-do lists to attend to when a loved one dies. Even fairly ordinary tasks like cancelling the utility bills require careful attention.
Choosing a Personal Representative
While parents may feel compelled to name all their grown children to the role, lawyers discourage this approach, since doing so can result in the delays each time routine forms or actions require sign off. Conflict is a possibility too—especially since emotions run high during grief. Instead, consider naming one person the primary representative and another a secondary, or back-up representative—and be sure to keep your designees up to date on your intentions, accounts and legal documents.
When it comes to deciding who to designate as your representative, keep in mind that it does not have to be a relative, nor is a background in accounting or law required—these experts can always be hired if needed. Instead, the experts at FindLaw suggest:
When choosing a personal representative, look for someone trustworthy, organized, and tough. Don’t worry about finding the smartest person you know… Because your personal representative distributes your estate to your beneficiaries, they may have to stand up to unhappy family members or deal with family conflicts. They also settle creditor claims and lawsuits. Your personal representative should be someone you trust. They will handle your assets and look out for your beneficiaries’ best interests. Additionally, the state will also hold them to a “fiduciary duty,” so the state may remove your personal representative if they are not putting your beneficiaries first. For significant breaches of fiduciary duty, your personal representative may be liable for fines or criminal charges.
Keep in mind that during the probate process in many states, bonds, such as personal representative bonds, are required. Colonial Surety is here to help personal representatives anywhere in the country quickly and affordably secure the required bond. Our self-serve, online platform is user friendly, making personal representative bonds easily directly, and quickly available.
Across the country, lawyers find that partnering with Colonial Surety Company speeds up the process whenever courts require fiduciary bonds or court bonds.
Colonial’s direct, fully digital, user-friendly system reduces the time, hassle and expense typically associated with antiquated bonding processes. For even more value added service, lawyers are invited to sign up for our complimentary Partnership Account® for Attorneys, This free business service provides user-friendly client management dashboards, enabling attorneys to easily coordinate, view, complete and e-file the court and fiduciary bonds clients need. Increase your efficiency—and lower costs for clients. See for yourself today: The Partnership Account® for Attorneys.
Founded in 1930, Colonial Surety Company is a direct writer of a wide range of bonds and insurance products. Colonial is rated “A Excellent” by A.M. Best Company, U.S. Treasury listed, and licensed for business everywhere in the USA.