Picking the right person to serve as personal representative

When you are in the process of estate planning, it is understandable that you may be focused on how you would like to distribute your assets. However, it is important not to neglect what may seem are small details. One of such details is the choice of a personal representative. Although this choice may seem like an afterthought, in reality it is very important, as the wrong person could cause your estate to become mismanaged or tied up in litigation.

Having a competent person in the role of personal representative is important because the job involves several vital duties. These duties include:

• Identifying and gathering together your estate's assets

• Locating your will

• Notifying your creditors of your death and paying valid bills

• Paying any income and estate taxes due

• Distributing your assets according to the provisions in your will

Although this role is very significant, many persons assume that a close family member would be able to fulfill the role. However, in order to ensure that you have a good personal representative, the qualities of the person outweigh familial relations.

Identifying a suitable personal representative

Of course, since the role of personal representative is one of trust, it is important to have someone that is honest and trustworthy. However, aside from having a spotless character, it is helpful for your candidate to have experience with legal or financial issues, as the role involves a fair amount of bills and legal documents.

Another good quality that your personal representative should have is good people skills. Unfortunately, the role can involve some conflict, as the candidate may have to deal with upset or hurt family members that may be angry about how you chose to divide your estate. As a result, your candidate should be someone who has a fair amount of patience and can be trusted not to favor one family member over another.

Finally, your personal representative should have enough time available to devote to the role. Since dealing with your estate can take copious amounts of time and may involve significant paperwork, a good candidate is someone that has a job or lifestyle that would allow them to be free to do the work. Also, since certain aspects of the role are difficult to adequately perform remotely, a good candidate would live near you or at least in the same state.

If your estate is large, complex, or you own property outside of your state, it may be better to consider appointing an attorney experienced in estate administration issues to serve as your personal representative. This is because your estate would likely face issues that may be overwhelming or outside the knowledge of a layperson.

Speak to an attorney

Since most estate planning attorneys have seen the results of having a poor choice of personal representative in the course of their careers, it is very helpful to have their advice when choosing someone to manage your estate. An attorney can explain the likely issues your estate will face and offer advice on the type of person that would be best able to overcome them.