If you have recently lost a loved one and you have been designated as the personal representative of his or her estate, it will be important for you to have a thorough understanding of the probate process. You will also need to understand what happens outside of probate, as you may or may not have additional obligations outside of the probate process as well.

7 Steps to Take If You Have Been Designated as a Loved One’s Personal Representative

In order to fulfill your duties as a personal representative, there are some important steps you will need to take to prepare. Here are some tips from our estate administration attorneys:

1. Make Sure You Qualify

First, you should make sure you are qualified to serve as your loved one’s personal representative. In order to serve as the personal representative of an estate in Florida, you must be at least 18 years of age, and you must either (i) be a Florida resident, or (ii) be a spouse, child, parent, sibling, or other close relatives of the deceased.

Typically, people choose close family members to serve as their personal representatives and this is not an issue. But, there are various circumstances in which designated personal representatives will not be qualified to serve. And when this is the case, this is an issue that must be addressed at the outset of the probate process.

2. Review Your Loved One’s Will

Once you confirm that you are qualified to serve as a personal representative, the next step is to review your loved one’s will. You do not need to be a lawyer to serve as a personal representative (and most personal representatives are not lawyers), so it is not expected that you will be able to fully interpret and execute the terms of your loved one’s will on your own (more on this below).

However, as a personal representative, you have a legal obligation to fulfill your loved one’s final wishes consistent with the terms of his or her will and Florida law. So, you should take the time to read the will in detail, take plenty of notes, and identify any specific questions you may have. Unless the will is ruled to be invalid – which is an entirely separate issue that has the potential to come up during probate – you will be referring to the will on a regular basis during the estate administration process.

3. Review Your Loved One’s Other Estate Planning Documents

In addition to reviewing your loved one’s will, you should also review his or her other estate planning documents. This is important for a number of different reasons, including:

  • If certain issues are not addressed in the will (e.g., the distribution of certain assets), you will need to know whether these issues are covered in another estate planning document or if you will be responsible for resolving these issues through probate.
  • If your loved one named you as his or her personal representative, it is possible that he or she could have bestowed other obligations on you as well. For example, if your loved one established a revocable living trust, you will want to confirm whether you have also been designated as a trustee.

Regardless of the specific terms of your estate plan, it will be beneficial for you to have a complete picture of your loved one’s estate and what will be involved in the estate’s overall administration. If there are gaps or ambiguities, this is something you will want to know as well.

4. Learn What You Will Need to Do during Probate

As the personal representative of your loved one’s estate, you will have a number of responsibilities during the probate process. From opening the probate estate to providing notice to creditors, and from distributing estate assets to beneficiaries to closing the estate, you will be the person who is primarily responsible for ensuring that everything happens as it should. For an overview of your responsibilities as a personal representative in Florida, you can read The Basic Steps of Probate.

5. Learn What Will Happen If You Run into Issues during Probate

From questions regarding the enforceability of your loved one’s will to questions of whether you are adequately fulfilling your duties as a personal representative, there are several potential issues that can come up during probate in Florida. By learning about these potential issues upfront, you can proactively take steps to avoid them, and you can be prepared to react appropriately if and when they arise. Learn more: What Should You Do If You Run into Issues during Probate in Florida?

6. Make Sure You Understand Your Legal Obligations

If you have been named as a loved one’s personal representative, it is important to understand that serving in this capacity comes with legal obligations. If you make significant mistakes that result in financial harm to the estate or your loved one’s heirs or beneficiaries, you could face personal legal responsibility. However, by making sure you understand your role at the outset, you can meet your obligations without making mistakes, and you can avoid any concerns about potentially being sued.

7. Speak with an Estate Administration Attorney

Finally, due to the complexities involved in the probate process, it is advisable to discuss your role as a personal representative with an estate administration attorney. An experienced attorney will be able to provide you with clear advice and supply you with step-by-step instructions for managing probate effectively. If desired, your attorney will be able to handle the legal aspects of probate on your behalf as well.

Schedule a Confidential Initial Consultation at Beller & Bustamante, P.L.

Have you been designated as a loved one’s personal representative in Jacksonville, FL? If so, we would be happy to explain everything you need to know. To schedule a confidential initial consultation at Beller & Bustamante, P.L., please call us directly or request an appointment online today.