By Melinda Gustafson Gervasi
#3 - Who to Name as Personal Representative
Wisconsin is my home state, meaning we use the term "Personal Representative" (hereafter "PR") instead of the more commonly known "Executor". The role of the PR is to file a will with the court, collect the deceased person's probate assets, pay the final taxes, funeral and medical costs, and any other liabilities of the deceased. The PR distributes the remainder to the beneficiaries as stated in the will, or if no will, follows state statute on disbursing funds. This is an oversimplified version of the work required of a PR, but it provides the general gist of the work involved.
Knowing the type of work involved, and the fact a probate on average takes 12-18 months from start to finish, you can develop a good sense of the skill-set required by the person you nominate to by the PR. I do not recommend a knew-jerk reaction and name your first born because s/he is the oldest or your sister because you know she'll harass you until the day you die if you do not name her. Instead, nominate someone who is well-suited for the job. When speaking with the public or with clients I say "aim for Switzerland -- who is neutral, precise and efficient?"
Look at your collection of family and friends. Who:
- does not have a "dog in the fight" -- trust me, even the most serene families can erupt in arguments over the most mundane items when a loved one dies. It's usually not the thing, but rather who has control;
- who is Type A -- this is where teachers, nurses, engineers, accountants and the occasional lawyer can translate their Type A behaviors into the role of PR;
- who is going to be emotionally stable when they are: selling your car, filing a final income tax return; emptying the fridge, disposing of your medications; listing the home for sale; and balancing the monies so that dollars into the estate equal dollars out of the estate. Not everyone has this skill set;
- who has the time to take all this work on?; and
- who is able to delegate work when it makes sense to do so and is needed to keep the process moving along.
If you get through your list of friends and family and realize none listed possess the requisite skills you are not without hope. Instead of settling for someone you know, but who is ill-equipped, consider a professional. This is where wealth management departments of banks can be of tremendous support. My will lists a local bank to act as PR if my husband cannot. I have many lovely friends and limited family, but the complexity of our estate would be more efficiently handled by a professional fiduciary. That might be hard to admit, but sometimes the best course to take is not the easiest.
Thanks for reading, and remember -- a blog is not legal advice. Please consult an attorney in your home state for advice on current laws related to estate planning.