What is a personal representative?
Where a detailed estate administration is necessary, the court will generally appoint a personal representative to handle the administrative process. This personal representative is in charge of managing the probate estate, paying off any of the deceased’s outstanding debts and distributing the remaining probate property. When there is a legally valid will, the will may identify who the personal representative is. If the will does not identify a personal representative, or where there is no will, each state generally has its own laws as to who the personal representative will be and the court will appoint the appropriate representative. In such a situation, the personal representative will generally be the deceased’s spouse. If there is no spouse, it will generally be an adult child, a parent or a sibling. If there are no such relatives, the personal representative will generally be one of the deceased’s creditors or some other person who has a financial interest in the estate.
When there is a valid will, the personal representative is generally referred to as the executor (if male) or executrix (if female). Alternatively, when there is no will and the estate is being distributed pursuant to state intestacy statues, the personal representative is generally referred to as the administrator (if male) or administratrix (if female).
Once a personal representative has been appointed, they must formally assume the role, which generally means going before the clerk of the court to take a sworn oath and, in some states, posting a bond which will be returned after they have faithfully performed their duties as the personal representative. The court clerk will then issue documents which note that this individual has been appointed by the court as the personal representative and that they are qualified to carry out their duties and responsibilities. In other words, these documents can be used by the personal representative as evidence of their role while trying to handle estate affairs. Where the estate is being distributed pursuant to a legally valid will, these documents are known as letters testamentary. When there is no such legally valid will, and the estate is being distributed pursuant to state intestacy statues, the documents are known as letters of administration.