The death of a loved one is always a difficult time for family and friends. As such, a solid understanding of the probate process, which is the legal process of administering an estate, and the parties involved, helps the process move along smoothly and keeps unnecessarily stressful situations at bay. Two important players in estate administration include the beneficiary and the personal representative. While these two players have vastly different responsibilities, they are firmly connected to each other throughout the entire probate process.
The Personal Representative
The personal representative, also known as the executor to a will distributes all the estate property mentioned in the will. Further, the personal representative takes care of all the property in the will by ensuring that all taxes are paid in a timely manner, paying off debts, and distributing the property accordingly. Think of the will as a set of directions and the personal representative as the person that carries out those directions.
Naming an Estate Administrator
Normally a will specifies the person to act as personal representative upon the death of the testator, or will maker. However, situations exist where the will does not mention a personal representative or the representative passed away before the testator. The court names an estate administrator in these situations, choosing a person who is best suited to carry out the intent of the will. An estate administrator chosen by the court has the same exact duties and obligations as a personal representative named in the will.
The beneficiaries of the will receive the estate property according to the specific directions of the testator. For example, a will may state that a deceased father's car goes to his eldest son while several expensive paintings go to the youngest son. The eldest and youngest sons are beneficiaries of the car and the paintings, respectively. Beneficiaries have few obligations saved for any terms outlined in the will that the beneficiary must follow before receiving the named estate property.
Relationship between Beneficiaries and Personal Representatives
The personal representative carries a high burden of responsibility. In short, the representative becomes a fiduciary of the estate. This means the representative must accurately account for all probate property, ensure none of the property diminishes in value, and distributes the property to the appropriate beneficiaries as soon as those beneficiaries can take property under the guidelines of the will. Failure to meet this high standard may leave the personal representative responsible to the beneficiaries for any depreciation in the estate's value.