Choosing Fiduciaries Part I - Personal Representative

A fiduciary is a person or an institution that you give the power to act on your behalf or administer your affairs according to the terms you lay out in your estate planning documents.  They have a "fiduciary duty" to act in good faith according to your wishes and the terms you set out defining the relationship.  In this section, we discuss choosing a Personal Representative.

Upon your death, your personal representative is the person that administers your estate, winds up your financial affairs, pays your debts/taxes, and distributes your estate to the proper beneficiaries.  

People most often name adult children, siblings, or friends as their personal representative.  Most of the time, these choices work out just fine.  However, it's important to realize that acting as a personal representative can require a great deal of work.  Being a personal representative is a big responsibility and time commitment.  In fact, personal representatives are allowed to be paid by your estate for their efforts.  You should try not to think of it as an honor you are bestowing upon someone.  This is a job that has to get done correctly and efficiently or there can be many negative consequences. 

Your personal representative should be someone who is responsible, trustworthy, honest, and loyal.  They should be detail-oriented and able to follow deadlines.  The probate process can be tricky and deadlines play a major role.  Someone intimidated by a large amount of paperwork might not make a good personal representative.  Good organizational skills are a must.  Choose someone who will honor the terms of your Will and be able to communicate effectively with the rest of your family.  Unfortunately, the death of a loved one often brings out animosity between beneficiaries, especially when significant property is at stake.  

Lastly, remember that the personal representative does not have to go through the process alone.  Utilizing a probate attorney to assist the personal representative significantly eases the burden and can help ensure that the process proceeds smoothly.

Next up, we will discuss choosing a Guardian and a Trustee for minor children.