What Is a Personal Representative in a Will?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

What Is a Personal Representative in a Will?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

For estate planning purposes, a personal representative is an individual or entity in charge of administering the deceased's estate and distributing their assets according to the terms of their will. Some states use the terms "executor" or "executrix" to describe this role. Generally, a person names a close friend, family member, or professional, such as an accountant or lawyer, to act as their personal representative. Because executing an estate can be time consuming and comes with certain liabilities, sometimes a will names a second personal representative in the event the first choice does not or cannot accept the position.

Man holding pen over document about estate distribution

Fiduciary Duty and Responsibilities of a Personal Representative

As stated above, an individual must accept the role of personal representative. Once accepted, they have a fiduciary duty to the estate and its beneficiaries or heirs. Acting as fiduciary is an enormous responsibility. If there is a failure to comply with this duty, a court can hold them personally liable for any damage they cause.

The personal representative has many responsibilities when administering an estate. The main responsibilities are to:

  • Obtain the will and notify any beneficiaries or heirs. They must notify any beneficiaries or heirs named in the will and provide them with information regarding what they are to receive.
  • Locate, gather, and inventory the deceased's assets. They must submit an accounting report to the probate court.
  • Pay any outstanding creditors and file any final tax returns. Before distributing any assets, they must use funds from the estate to pay off any outstanding debts.
  • Distribute any remaining assets to the named beneficiaries or heirs in the will. After paying all debts, they can begin to distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.

Removing a Personal Representative

A probate court can remove a personal representative for misconduct or breach of fiduciary duty. For example, if they fail to file documents or taxes on time, or if they buy assets from the estate, the court may elect to remove them from their duties. However, merely making a decision that the heirs or beneficiaries disagree with is typically not grounds for dismissal.

A court can also disqualify a named personal representative from the onset if they do not meet the state's requirements—for example, if the individual named in the will is under age or has been convicted of a felony. It generally needs to be shown why the individual is being removed, such as because it's in the best interest of the estate.

Compensating a Personal Representative

Because there are significant responsibilities associated with this role, sometimes compensation can be received from the work. Some wills explicitly state how much they should be paid. If the will does not mention payment, the court generally awards the personal representative on a fixed schedule or by what the judge deems reasonable given the complexity of the estate.

Accepting the role of personal representative is a serious decision. If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional, you may wish to consult an attorney to help guide you through the process.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.