How to Choose a Personal Representative of Your Will

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image of woman making a decisionChoosing a Personal Representative of your will is an important decision a number of people find difficult to make. With some care and these helpful suggestions, you can make an informed choice for your Personal Representative.

The process for picking a Personal Representative (formerly called Executor) in your Will is similar to choosing a Trustee for your Trust. The Personal Representative (PR) is the person who administers, manages and distributes your estate after your passing. You will want a person you trust in this role to handle your finances, work with your attorney and to follow your instructions and wishes in distributing your estate.

Here are some characteristics that you should look for in a potential PR:

  1. Trust
    The PR of your Will should be someone you know well and implicitly trust. For many people, the first and obvious choice is a family member. While a family member can be an excellent choice, there is no legal requirement that a PR be a family member. In some cases, a non-family member may also be a good choice. For example, if you have more than one child and name one of your children as PR, ask yourself if that will create tension among the siblings or if the child is able to be fully objective. The first and foremost consideration when choosing a PR for your Will is that you trust that person and have faith in their ability to handle your assets and finances and to carry out your wishes regarding the distribution of your estate.
  2. Good with Finances
    One of the main roles of a PR is to maintain, manage and distribute your assets. The PR has a fiduciary duty to preserve your assets, properly invest them, and be fiscally responsible in managing your money. As a result, you may not want someone in that role who is unable to balance their own checkbook, regularly bounces checks, has filed bankruptcy numerous times, and doesn’t have an understanding of managing money or handling the type of investments that you own. While your PR does not need to be a financial expert, they have to know where to go to get the expert assistance that they need to be able to deal with your assets (e.g. an attorney, financial planner, etc.).
  3. Capacity to Perform
    Every state has minimum qualifications for the role of PR. In Missouri, a PR must be at least 18 years old and must be of sound mind. Beyond the minimum qualifications, you will want to consider the person’s ability to carry out the responsibilities of being a PR. If you think a person will be deeply affected by your death and unable to carry out the duties involved with that role, he or she may not be the best choice. Likewise, a person who has a demanding job or demanding personal commitments may not be the best choice to administer your estate.

    Another point of consideration when evaluating a potential PR is the health and/or age of that person. Performing as PR can sometimes be time-consuming and have many demands. Make sure the person you name can withstand those demands. Often a young person doesn’t have the perspective and life experience necessary to objectively administer an estate. On the other hand, a more senior person in failing health may have some potential risk as well.
  4. Proximity
    While some states require a PR to live in the same state, Missouri does not. Estates are regularly administered with PRs who live in different states. Nevertheless, having a PR who lives far away sometimes creates some logistical hurdles in that documents have to be sent back and forth to be signed and reviewed. Acting as PR may also require at least a few trips into Missouri to deal with issues as they arise. Nevertheless, in today’s mobile society with relatives sometimes scattered all over the country, having a PR that lives elsewhere is not an insurmountable hurdle. Despite that, proximity is a factor that should still be considered in your decision.

After reviewing these considerations, and particularly if you have a small family, you may discover that you simply cannot think of a proper person to serve as your PR. In that instance, you will want to consider appointing a professional fiduciary such as a bank or trust company. Professional fiduciaries are usually paid a set fee from the funds of your estate. To ensure your family members have some input, you can include a provision that allows one or more family members to discharge the professional fiduciary if the family member(s) feel the professional is performing appropriately.

Finally, when choosing a PR for your Will be sure to ask the person if he or she is willing to take on that role. You may find he or she has no interest or feels unable to perform the duties of a PR. As with all estate planning, it is imperative that you have conversations with the people you are relying on to carry out your wishes after your death. Proactive communication can avoid a considerable amount stress and potential problems after your passing.

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Law Office of Christopher P. Cox, L.L.C.
13321 N. Outer 40 Rd.
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Chesterfield, MO 63017
Tel: 314-727-0163
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The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements. The information and materials on this Web site are provided for general informational purposes only, and are not intended to be, and is not, legal advice. This Web site attempts to provide quality information, but the law changes frequently and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The information and materials provided are general in nature, and may not apply to a specific factual or legal circumstance.