A Personal Representative (“PR”) is someone who is tasked with taking care of and distributing a deceased person’s estate. Five days after the death of the decedent, anyone 21 years of age or older may apply to the District Court in the county of the decedent’s residence to become the PR of the decedent’s estate. Certain people with a close family relationship to the decedent have priority for appointment as PR, but a provision in the decedent’s will naming a PR has the highest priority. A will must be filed for probate within three years after the decedent’s death. If there is no objection filed against the applicant PR, then the Court will appoint the applicant as the PR.
Once a PR has been appointed by the Court, the PR has a broad range of duties and obligations. After finding he will (if one exists), the PR must notify utility companies, credit card companies, banks, the Social Security Administration, and any other company from which the decedent was receiving benefits, about the death of the decedent. The PR may also publish a notice to all known and unknown creditors of the decedent’s estate setting forth the time period wherein claims can be presented to the estate for payment. If the decedent also had a trust, the PR must work with the Trustee to coordinate paying bills, expenses of last illnesses, and funeral costs and to coordinate the management and distribution of the decedent’s probate estate and trust estate.
The PR must take reasonable steps to take care of and manage the property of the decedent. Within three months after being appointed, a PR must take an inventory of all the decedent’s assets. The PR must file a final income tax return for the decedent and pay any taxes owed. If the estate of the decedent at the time of the decedent's death is altogether worth more than $11.4 million in 2019, the PR is required to file a federal estate tax return for the decedent’s estate. After the inventory has been taken, taxes filed and paid, and debts of the estate paid off, the PR must then distribute the property as stipulated by the provisions of the decedent’s will, trust, or according to the laws of intestate succession, as applicable.
The PR owes a strong fiduciary duty of loyalty and good faith to the decedent’s devisees and heirs. This means that the PR must safeguard the property of the decedent’s estate and distribute it to the devisees and heirs in strict compliance with the will or intestate succession statutes, as applicable. Any PR who acts improperly may be held liable for damages and costs incurred as a result of a breach of the PR’s fiduciary duty.
If you have any questions about Probate or becoming a court-appointed Personal Representative of an estate, please call us at 801-447-5577.
Concordia University School of Law
Law Student Extern (Summer 2019)