When you make a Last Will and Testament, you designate a person to serve as the executor of your estate, which is called a personal representative in Michigan. A personal representative in a will has significant legal responsibilities in an estate, so it’s important to choose someone capable of handling the duties. Similarly, if a loved one asks you to serve as the personal representative of their estate, you should fully understand the duties before you accept the responsibility.
A person designated as a personal representative in a will does not have any authority or legal duties with regard to the estate solely on account of the provisions in the will until the person who created the will passes away. Following the death of the person making the will, a named personal representative makes the decision whether to accept or decline appointment.
Before a designated personal representative can administer the estate, they must apply to the court for appointment as the personal representative of the estate. After the court makes the appointment, the personal representative in a will has substantial fiduciary duties under Michigan statutes regarding administration of the estate.
Michigan laws provide a clear process and timeline for administration and probate of an estate. Specific court filings are required. Often, it is advisable for a personal representative in a will to retain a probate attorney to ensure full compliance with all legal requirements. Failure to comply can result in a personal representative’s termination and liability.
Initially, the duties of a personal representative in a will include notifying the beneficiaries of the estate, according to the notification requirements in state law. Others with an interest in the estate also must be notified.
Early in the administration process, the personal representative must identify and collect all property of the estate and create an inventory of assets, including any items in a safe deposit box. One of the duties of the personal representative is taking appropriate steps to secure and protect specific assets if necessary. Valuations must be assigned to all property, which may require the services of a qualified appraiser.
After the personal representative identifies all the estate property, assets are reviewed to determine which property in the estate is required to go through the probate process. This analysis requires an in-depth understanding of Michigan probate law. If probate is required, the executor initiates the procedure required under the state statutes.
An important duty of the personal representative is paying all outstanding debts and expenses of the estate and settling any claims against the estate. This responsibility includes filing required tax returns and paying any outstanding taxes owed by the decedent or the estate.
If any disputes or disagreements arise during administration of the estate, a court action against the estate may result. If that happens, the personal representative in a will should retain a probate litigation attorney to represent the estate and the personal representative in the lawsuit. Just as it is often not a good idea for a personal representative in a will to handle probate administration without assistance from experienced legal counsel, it is not advisable for a personal representative to attempt to navigate through a court action without representation by a knowledgeable litigation attorney.
When all outstanding matters are settled and paid, the personal representative proceeds with distribution of the assets of the estate, as directed in the will. In some situations, distribution involves giving assets directly to the beneficiaries. If the estate includes a trust, the personal representative in a will turns assets over to the trustee if directed by the provisions of the will.
After all the aspects of probate administration are complete, the personal representative closes the estate by filing the documents required to close the estate with the probate court.
The fiduciary duties of a personal representative of an estate are substantial under Michigan law. Breach of those duties can result in liability. In many cases, the executor of an estate should get assistance from an experienced probate attorney to ensure that all legal requirements for probate administration are met.
Our lawyers at BRMM have many years of experience assisting clients with estate planning and probate administration. When you make a will as part of your estate plan, we not only assist you in creating the will, but we also help you through the process of selecting a personal representative who can perform the substantial legal duties of administering your estate. If you are named as the personal representative in a will and require assistance with the estate administration and probate process, we can assist throughout the entire process to ensure that all Michigan legal requirements are met. We also can assist clients with estates and wills in Florida.
At BRMM, we’ve been providing legal services to clients for more than 40 years. Our compassion, credentials, and commitment set us apart. Call us at (248) 494-4577 to talk with us about matters relating to any area of concern included in our practice. We serve clients in Troy, Oakland County, and surrounding areas, as well as out-of-state clients with estate and probate matters arising in Michigan.