A personal representative (“PR”) is one who administrates an estate. If you execute a will, as you should, you will designate a PR and usually one or two alternates. If you die without a will, a court will appoint a PR to your estate for you.
If you have a Living Trust, you will also have a will. These are referred to as “pour-over wills.” Assets which are not considered to be owned by your Living Trust will be assets the PR handles.
A PR is the person who gathers assets, gives notice to creditors, pays estate expenses, determines the family’s living allowance during administration, and makes sure appropriate tax returns are timely and properly filed. If you have an unincorporated business, your PR continues to run it, but only for four months.
Your PR has vast powers unless she is restricted by court order. She can borrow funds and enter into contracts. She has the power to sell your home and distribute or sell your personal property as she sees fit. She deals with Social Security, the ADOT Motor Vehicle Division and the IRS. This, of course, is not an all inclusive list.
Your PR has strict duties to many people and organizations. She must prepare an inventory of assets within ninety days after appointment. She must get appraisals for certain assets from qualified appraisers. She must determine if the surviving spouse or any dependent children should receive an allowance in lieu of homestead and how to satisfy this. These may not be difficult duties, but they are not necessarily intuitive.
Because of the nature of the powers and duties of a PR, you should choose someone who can make decisions and is capable of consulting with and hiring a lawyer. Even in the simplest or smallest estates, a lawyer should be consulted. A single misstep can be detrimental to the PR personally, as well as the estate and beneficiaries, under Arizona laws.
The decision of who to appoint can be very difficult. It should not be based on birth order, gender, or education. It should be based on whether the person is responsible, respectful to others and the law, and capable of knowing when to ask for help. Furthermore, a person who generally cuts corners or is irresponsible with her own affairs is not a good choice. A person with general personal integrity is a great choice.
Your PR does not need to be a family member. It could be a friend of the family who is trustworthy and knows your family’s history and your desires. She does not have to be someone who lives in Arizona. But she should be able to travel to Arizona occasionally until the estate is wrapped up.
Generally, you should only have one PR. A corporate PR can be quite costly. I rarely recommend a corporate PR. They used to be used exclusively, but not anymore. However, this is your decision.
If you are unsure who you should choose, talk to someone you trust for advice. Your choice affects everyone you leave behind.