Will Your Personal Representative Be Ready to Serve?

Will Your Personal Representative Be Ready to Serve?

Many Personal Representatives feel blind-sided.

The exhaustion etched in her face was startling. It had been eight months since I last saw Linda at her father’s funeral, and the change was remarkable. I listened over coffee as she poured out her frustration, punctuated with a catch in her throat and a few tears.

“I’m so angry that Dad left me with this mess to clean up. Acting as the Personal Representative of his estate has become a full time job… and I already have a full time job. How could he have been so disorganized? Instead of grieving his passing, I’m consumed with resentment. It’s just awful.”

Personal Representative frustration

Sadly, Linda’s experience is all too common. For lack of planning, an unsuspecting loved one who has been named as the Personal Representation can be left with the overwhelming task of probate for a family member’s ill-defined estate.

Expert Advice

My friend Sharron Cosby serves as the Legacy/Legal Department Director for an international charity. Sharron often is named as Personal Representative (PR) for estates benefitting the organization. Through a recent facebook exchange, she shared several key insights that have been cultivated through her fourteen years of experience in settling numerous estates. She graciously agreed to let me share these “lessons learned” with my readers.

7 Proactive Steps That Will Spare Your Personal Representative from Monumental Frustration

  1. Obtain legal counsel to prepare your will or trust document.

    Some of the biggest headaches occur when the deceased prepared his or her own will. The cost of a will is minimal when compared to the cost of cleaning up a legal quagmire due to improper drafting or execution of the document. On-line templates and office supply forms should be avoided. Retain an attorney experienced in estates and trusts. You wouldn’t go to a podiatrist to perform heart surgery, so don’t use a bankruptcy attorney to write your will.

  2. Location. Location. Location.

    This phrase isn’t just about real estate. Inform your PR where your will and other documents are kept. Your PR must have the original will to open the probate case. The legal procedure to establish a lost or stolen will is expensive and exposes the estate to claims from heirs you might not want to inherit. A safety deposit box is not a good location unless your PR is a joint tenant of the box. If using an online service, such as Everplans, ensure your PR has his or her own access credentials. Other computer passwords should be accessible. If possible, provide your condo association or apartment management with the name of your PR so access will not be impeded.

  3. Organize the necessary documents.

    Assemble these basic documents into one space: original will and/or trust, bank statement(s), prepaid funeral plan, utility bills, insurance papers, deeds, vehicle title(s), HOA documents, jewelry appraisals, etc. Include your healthcare directives as well. Everplans is a terrific online repository for your documents. Remember, your directives need to be quickly accessible by your healthcare agents before your passing!

  4. Carefully select your PR.

    Age is a consideration. Maturity matters, as the process requires a willingness to serve the interests of a loved one who has passed, even at the personal cost of time and emotional energy while experiencing grief. Where does your nominee live? Family members can serve even if they live out of state, non-relatives cannot. Check your state’s statute on this requirement.

  5. Purge with regularity.

    Read through the IRS retention requirements and consult with your attorney about document retention for your state. Excess papers and “stuff” create a burden for your PR. Regularly purge your closets, drawers, and file cabinets.

  6. Create a contacts list.

    Provide the name or names of the people to notify (or not) about your death. Keep the list with the important documents, preferably on top for ready retrieval. You may want to post your list on the refrigerator for easy access.

  7. Talk about it.

    Open conversation about your estate plans  with your loved ones can spare your survivors from legal and emotional battles. Talk with your named Personal Representative now to ensure he or she clearly understands your intentions, knows how and where to access your documents, and feels equipped to serve your interests. Be as forthcoming as possible. Admittedly, family dynamics can be tricky, so apply wisdom and discernment as you determine how much to share and with whom.

Proper planning paves the way for your PR to efficiently and effectively discharge his or her duties. Disorganization creates frustration and unnecessary, potentially expensive, work for both your PR and his/her legal counsel.

Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they tell about you. ~ Shannon L. Alder

Thank you, Sharron Cosby, for your contribution to this post.

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