When someone with a last will and testament dies, it’s common for a personal representative to be named in the will. If there is no will, an administrator (who serves the same function) may be self-selected or could be chosen by the court. The personal representative is a trusted person who will be responsible for the final disposition of the estate of the deceased, including money, property, and other assets, as well as taxes and other debts. If you’ve been named as a personal representative, here are some of the duties you will be responsible for and how an attorney can help you.
Duties of a Personal Representative
Once you’ve filed the will and other paperwork and accepted your appointment as personal representative to the estate by the court, your real duties begin. Your next step is to make an inventory of all the assets that belong to the estate. Assets include items such as real estate, cash, bank accounts, any insurance policies or other payable-on-death accounts, retirement accounts, and any investments such as stocks or bonds, as well as any personal property of value such as vehicles, jewelry, books, art, or other collectibles. Every item in the inventory should also have a value attached to it, for which you may need the services of a professional appraiser.
If you’re unsure about an asset, this is an area where your estate planning and probate attorney will be able to help. She can advise you about the assets that need to be valued, how to make a legally correct inventory, and when you need an appraiser.
After your valuation of the estate and its assets, you’ll need to consider both federal and state estate taxes. In the state of Washington as of 2018, you won’t need to file or pay any estate tax if the value of the estate is below $2,193,000, but be sure to check with the State of Washington for the most current exclusion amount. The most current federal amount is $5,490,000, but again, be sure to check with the Internal Revenue Service for the most up-to-date information on estate tax. Your estate planning and probate attorney will also be able to help you with this information, including determining how much the estate owes, how to file, and how to draw funds from the estate to make any necessary tax payments.
You’ll also need to pay any debts that the estate has, notify creditors of the death, and settle any claims made against the estate. If you’re unsure about a claim, this is another area where your attorney can help—it may turn out that a claim for a debt isn’t valid at all, saving the estate (and any heirs or beneficiaries) money.
Finally, after the inventory is completed and taxes, debts, and other claims are settled, you are then responsible for disbursing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries of the estate as specified in the will or other estate planning documents.
Legal Help for Personal Representatives
Being a personal representative to an estate is a position of trust, and as such, you are assuming
legal responsibility for the estate. Consequently, you may be found personally liable if estate assets are mishandled or you otherwise fail in your duties as a personal representative, whether accidental or not. When in doubt, having an attorney by your side can help protect your own legal rights and ensure that you are fully complying with the law as you carry out the last wishes of your family member or loved one.
If you have any questions about managing an estate as a personal representative, or if are ready to create or review your own estate plan, the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny is here to serve you. Our professional and courteous attorneys have decades of experience handling estate and probate issues, and we are ready to help you and your family today. To arrange a private consultation in our Bellevue office, please call us, or use our contact form to send an email.