A loved one has just passed away and someone tells you the decedent nominated you as the Personal Representative of their Estate in their Last Will and Testament. What does this job entail? What authority do you have? What should be your first steps?
In a nutshell, the role of a Personal Representative (also sometimes called an “Executor”) is to oversee the gathering of a decedent’s probate assets, pay all necessary creditors, and make distributions in line with the terms of the Last Will and Testament. The Personal Representative is the “manager,” overseeing the entire probate process.
A Last Will and Testament should list a particular person(s) to act as Personal Representative. If a will was never executed and no other estate planning documents were completed, an interested person, usually a close friend or family member, petitions the Probate Court to be appointed.
In either case, the Probate Court determines whether to approve the individual, and if a bond will be required to be paid by the nominated Personal Representative as collateral against the value of the probate assets.
If approved by the Probate Court, Domiciliary Letters will be issued to the Personal Representative. Domiciliary Letters serve as formal proof that the Personal Representative has the legal authority to act. Often banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions require this Letter prior to releasing any information.
Throughout the process of administering an Estate, the Personal Representative will also want to keep a close eye on the deadlines mandated by the Probate Court. Deadlines often include: filing a required Notice to Creditors, filing an Inventory of the decedent’s probate assets, and filing a final Estate Account listing all the expenses and payouts to beneficiaries. Sample blank forms can be found on the Wisconsin Court System website: https://wicourts.gov/forms1/circuit/index.htm
The Personal Representative is also responsible for paying any outstanding bills, selling any estate assets, submitting final tax returns, and more. There are often specific time deadlines complicating each step of the process of administering an Estate.
It is not uncommon, given the steps involved, to have a probate proceeding open anywhere from 9-15 months, or longer.
If you have questions or concerns about the probate process or your job as Personal Representative, please click here. We are more than happy to guide you through the probate administration and what to expect as a personal representative.