Many times when a person is asked by a loved one to agree to act as the personal representative of an estate after that person’s death, the answer is yes. However, that person is rarely fully aware of what he or she are agreeing to do. Being appointed as the personal representative of an estate carries significant responsibility over a long period of time. It requires much more than simply disbursing assets to beneficiaries.
One of the first things to understand is that the probate process is not a quick one. It can take place over a minimum period of six months, up to several years, depending on any issues that may arise. The person who is appointed as personal representative will be responsible for all accounting of the estate over those months, with one of the very first required actions being to open an estate bank account. All monies from the estate including insurance proceeds, funds from the sale of assets, stocks, bonds, etc. must be deposited into that account where they will sit until time for disbursement.
It is also the responsibility of the personal representative to locate and notify all creditors of the decedent, who will then have six months to file a claim with the probate court. In addition, life insurance and retirement account servicers must be notified in writing and provided a copy of a death certificate. Heirs will need to be notified, assets will need to be secured and maintained, and ongoing bills will need to be paid.
These actions are all procedural within a probate matter, and do not include the potential issues that can arise when, and if, a contest of will is filed. This can turn any probate into a highly complex and long, drawn out matter that will certainly require a substantial amount of time and effort from a personal representative. It is highly recommended that prior to agreeing to act as such, a person consult with an experienced probate attorney who can make sure your impending responsibilities are crystal clear before you make a decision.