The importance of choosing a good personal representative

Having a competent personal representative can ensure the smooth running of your estate.

When most people are putting together their wills, they do not give much thought about their choice of personal representative (also known as an executor). This is unfortunate, as the personal representative plays an important role in the administration of the estate. A wise choice can mean that the estate is handled in a smooth and efficient manner during the probate process. However, a poor choice can lead to the estate being mired in probate litigation or will contests.

In California, the personal representative has varied but vital duties such as:

• Gathering, inventorying and safeguarding the estate's assets

• Filing the necessary probate documents with the court

• Notifying interested parties of the decedent's death

• Paying all valid debts of the estate

• Appraising estate assets

• Filing personal and estate tax returns

• Distributing estate assets according to the terms of the will

• Closing the estate, once the other duties have been fulfilled

Since virtually all the duties of personal representative are necessary for the efficient running of the estate, it naturally follows that it is important to ensure that a competent person is appointed to the role.

Picking the best candidate

Unfortunately, when faced with the task of selecting a personal representative, many people choose a close relative as a default. Although this may be a sound tactic in some cases, experts say that it is better to select someone based on their skills and abilities. It is recommended that the person have the following qualities:

• The judgment, ability and maturity necessary to manage property and make sound financial decisions.

• Since the role involves significant financial and legal paperwork, a person with a significant amount of patience and a legal or financial background is ideal.

• The role often requires the personal representative to deal with upset or hurt family members, so it is necessary for the candidate to be able to handle and resolve conflict well. Also, the person chosen should be one that can be trusted to carry out the role impartially, without favoring one beneficiary over another.

• The candidate should have a lifestyle that allows him or her to devote sufficient time to the significant paperwork the role requires.

If a suitable candidate cannot be identified, the estate concerns property located in more than one state, or is large or complex, it might be a good idea to appoint a professional as personal representative. A probate attorney can ensure that the estate is administered in an efficient, competent and impartial manner.

In order to receive additional guidance on choosing a personal representative, it is wise to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of an estate planning attorney. An attorney can consider your unique situation and advise you on the best way to achieve your goals.