The “101” On Personal Representatives In Florida Probate
If you’ve recently found yourself thrown into the Florida Probate process, or want to educate yourself ahead of such an event, you have come to the right place. Most estates must go through at least some form of probate in Florida, and the court process is often long and complicated. However, there are certain terms and roles you can familiarize yourself with upfront that will make understanding the process easier. One such term is that of the estate’s “Personal Representative.” One of the first questions many people have as they enter into the Probate process is: what is a Personal Representative? What Responsibilities should be anticipated for the role? Does the Personal Representative need an Attorney?
What is a Personal Representative? What is their Role?
The Personal Representative in a probate matter is the person, trust company, or bank appointed to be in charge of managing/administering the probate estate in accordance with Florida law. Accordingly, a personal representative should be prepared to take several administrative actions related to the estate, such as:
- Inventorying probate assets
- Serving notice to creditors that the estate has entered probate (publishing the notice in a local newspaper is one customary practice)
- Diligently search to locate and identify heirs and beneficiaries in order to give notice
- Pay any estate debts
- File taxes on the estate
- Employ any necessary professionals to assist in administering the estate (for example, attorneys, accountants, etc.)
- Distribute assets
Close the probate estate
While the above list serves as an example of some common duties of a Personal Representative, it is by no means exhaustive. Personal Representatives will find themselves with many necessary duties and obligations as they serve to close out the estate.
Who Can Be a Personal Representative? Will the Court Appoint One?
As relayed above, a personal representative can be a qualifying person, trust company, or bank. If a person, they must qualify by either being a Florida resident OR a close relative of the decedent, such as spouse, parent, child, etc. A qualifying individual must be over the age of 18 and have no felonies on their record. A trust company that was incorporated under Florida law, or a bank with fiduciary powers in Florida may also serve as a Personal Representative in a Probate matter.
If the decedent died with a valid will naming a personal representative, so long as that person/organization is properly qualified then the court will honor the wishes set forth in the will. If the decedent did not have a will, or the will did not name a personal representative, the court will generally appoint:
- Surviving spouse (will have first right of refusal)
- A person/organization chosen by the majority of the heirs (will have second right of refusal)
- A representative selected by the court after a hearing is held
Does a Personal Representative Need Legal Counsel?
The Personal Representative is responsible for responsibly and appropriately administering the estate. Many legal issues are likely to arise while administering an estate through probate, and a trained, experienced Attorney can offer invaluable counsel and assistance. The Personal Representative may become liable to claims on behalf of the estate/heirs if an estate is mismanaged, even if the mismanagement is due to ignorance on the part of the Personal Representative. This is why engaging the right attorney from the start is crucial. Call the experienced team of Sarasota wills and probate attorneys at Suncoast Civil Law today to discuss your case.