I’ve Been Named the Personal Representative of an Estate. Now What?
In 2019, Arkansas courts processed nearly 25,000 probate, small estate, and decedent estate administration cases. A personal representative was involved in each of them.
Perhaps you have been asked by a friend or family member to serve as the personal representative of their estate. Maybe the court has appointed you to serve in that capacity for the estate of someone who died without a will. Or, maybe someone has just died and you were not aware that they had named you as the personal representative in their will. Unless you have been through this process before, you probably have many questions about your role and responsibilities as a personal representative.
At Bond Law Office, we have helped hundreds of clients in Fayetteville, Fort Smith, and throughout the Arkansas River Valley craft estate plans in which personal representatives are named. We have also helped hundreds of those personal representatives understand their role and have provided legal assistance as they carry out their responsibilities of seeing to the wishes of the decedent. We can help you, too.
What is a Personal Representative for an Estate?
A personal representative, sometimes referred to as an “executor,” is the person either designated in the will of the decedent or appointed by the court if the decedent died without a will to settle the matters of the estate. The personal representative works on behalf of the estate, not on behalf of themselves or the heirs of the estate.
Who Can Serve as a Personal Representative in Arkansas?
In Arkansas, a personal representative must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind in the opinion of the court. Convicted and unpardoned felons may not serve in this capacity.
Personal representatives are usually individuals; however, a corporation authorized to act as a fiduciary in the state of Arkansas may also serve as a personal representative if named in the decedent’s will.
If you were named the personal representative in a will and you are not an Arkansas resident, you will need to appoint someone who is a resident in the county in which the will is probated to act as an agent.
If the probate court believes a named personal representative is not suitable for the role for any reason, the court may call a hearing at which all interested parties, including heirs, creditors, or other potential personal representatives, can be heard from before the court rules on the matter.
What Are Their Duties?
A personal representative has no duties until after the death of the person whose estate they will handle. Duties of the personal representative include:
- Identifying all assets of the estate, including those which are not obvious, such as interest or dividends on investments or wages earned prior to death but not paid.
- Identifying debts and paying bills, including providing public notice — as required by law — of the opening of the estate.
- Protecting the assets of the estate by defending claims against it.
- Filing any lawsuits on behalf of the estate which would add to its assets. For example, if the decedent died as the result of someone else’s negligence, the personal representative could file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover damages on behalf of the estate.
- Paying all taxes owed by the estate.
- Distributing the assets of the estate as specified in the decedent’s last will and testament as appropriate under Arkansas probate law. If there is no will, distributing assets according to the law of intestate succession.
- Closing out the estate with the approval of the court.
Bond Law Office is Ready to Help
Having a law degree is not a requirement for a personal representative, but consulting an estate planning attorney is a wise decision. An experienced and knowledgeable attorney can help you with the probate process, ensuring that you perform your duties lawfully. The fact is that if you do something incorrectly to the detriment of the heirs or creditors, you may be sued for your actions.
An estate planning lawyer can help you avoid complications and typically, the estate will pay for an attorney, accountant, or other necessary professional services.
At Bond Law Office, for more than 25 years, we have been helping personal representatives in Fayetteville and Fort Smith, Arkansas, the Arkansas River Valley, and Harrison, Eureka Springs, Clarksville, Waldron, Mena, and Van Buren successfully carry out their duties as personal representatives.
Call us at Bond Law Office to schedule a consultation now.