What Is a Personal Representative in a Will?

By Beverly Bird

A personal representative is the person or entity named in a will to address the details of settling an estate. Your personal representative can be a friend, family member or professional, such as your accountant or lawyer. It can be your bank or investment institution. Executing an estate is often a time-intensive job requiring a certain amount of expertise. Some wills name a second personal representative in case the first one does not wish to serve.

Other Names

Depending on how a personal representative takes office, the position is sometimes referred to as an executor or administrator. An executor is a personal representative named by the decedent in his will. An administrator is usually a representative appointed by the court because the decedent did not name one or chose someone who was unwilling or unable to serve.


A personal representative’s job begins by receiving documents from the court giving her the power to act and make decisions for the estate. In most states, she is sworn into office and becomes an officer of the court while the court is overseeing the process of settling the estate. Her duties start with gathering the decedent’s assets and giving an accounting of them to the court. She then must see that all the decedent’s creditors, taxes and estate expenses are paid. She can distribute remaining assets and bequests to the decedent’s beneficiaries after everything is paid.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan


A personal representative has an obligation to both the court and the decedent’s beneficiaries to act fairly, honestly, sensibly and always with the estate’s best interests at heart. He should keep the beneficiaries in the loop as to what is happening and the progress the estate is making toward resolution.


The court can remove a personal representative from his position for misconduct if, for example, he fails to file documents and taxes on time or if he personally buys assets from the estate, even if it is at a fair value. Making decisions that the heirs disagree with is rarely a cause for termination, but it creates ill will with the beneficiaries. The court can also disqualify a chosen representative before he takes office if he has been convicted of a felony or falls below a minimum age requirement.


Because the job is usually very involved, personal representatives are typically paid for their work. Some wills name the compensation, either a dollar amount or, more often, a percentage of the estate. If the will doesn’t mention compensation, the probate court will generally award it, either on a fixed schedule set by the state or what a judge deems to be reasonable considering the complexity of the estate.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
Can an Executor of a Will Be Forced to Execute the Will by a Judge?


Related articles

Can the Beneficiary Be the Executor of a Will?

Most states do not have any laws against a beneficiary in a will also serving as the executor, or the person charged with overseeing the probate process. In fact, the situation is not uncommon. However, there are several practical considerations to take into account if you name an executor who will also inherit under the terms of your will.

Reasons to Remove an Executor in PA

An executor is the person named in a will to carry out a person's wishes after death. As the name suggests, the executor facilitates the execution of the deceased person's will. The role of the executor is the same as the role of administrator, but an administrator must be appointed in cases in which the deceased person failed to name an administrator, or if the named administrator declines to fulfill the position. Both are referred to as a "personal representative" in Pennsylvania law.

How Long Is Somebody the Executor of a Will?

The executor of a will is in office from the time she opens probate and is sworn in until the court closes the estate at the end of probate. This can take anywhere from a few months in a state that offers a simplified process for wills, to three or more years for complicated estates. Several situations can make the probate process take longer.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help. Wills & Trusts

Related articles

What Can an Executor Legally Charge the Estate for in Texas?

When a person dies in Texas, some or all of the estate's assets will go through a court probate process before being ...

When to Notify the Executor of a Will

Called a personal representative in some states, the executor named in a will assumes responsibility for administering ...

Administrator vs. Executor in a Probate

Executors and administrators have much of the same job. Each must guide a decedent's estate through the probate ...

What Are the Steps to Probate a Will?

In most cases, unless an estate is very small, the probate process is court-supervised. The deceased’s debts have to be ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED