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I’ve been named a personal representative – what should I know?

Every estate needs a personal representative (also known as an executor). This personal representative might be named in someone’s last will and testament, potentially with a conversation beforehand. In other cases, a court might appoint a personal representative if the deceased died intestate.

Discovering you are going to take on this role can be daunting. What does it actually entail? Here is an explanation.

What a personal representative actually does

In general terms, a personal representative is responsible for administering the estate during the court’s probate process. This means you will be:

  • Notifying interested parties about developments
  • Inventorying all assets in the estate
  • Managing those assets
  • Paying any outstanding debts still owed by the deceased
  • Distributing property and inheritance to heirs, according to the will or Colorado law
  • When everything is completed, closing the estate

It requires a lot of documentation and paperwork. You may have to find the will and get it to the court. You might need to dig up documents such as birth certificates, car titles, corporate agreements, retirement account statements and more. At some point, you will need to file taxes for the estate.

This process can take months, potentially even more than a year in complex cases. The law does let you take a small amount of compensation for taking on the role, but doing so requires meticulous recordkeeping.

The role comes with big responsibilities

As a personal representative, you are a fiduciary. That means you are legally responsible for making big decisions and must act in the best interests of the estate.

Administering an estate often means dealing with large sums of money during a particularly emotional time for people. What happens if someone is unhappy with their inheritance or a certain decision? It’s possible they may try to claim you breached your fiduciary duties. This could require you to put up a legal defense. While unlikely, it is a possibility.

The best way to prevent these allegations is to make sure you are being as thorough as possible. Take notes, follow the rules and do not assume anything. When in doubt about what to do next, check with those who know to ensure you are properly handling everything.

None of this is meant to scare you. The personal representative of an estate serves an important role, and is generally only given to those believed to be trustworthy. Even so, you should go into it fully aware of what the job entails.

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