When an estate begins the probate process, the probate court will appoint a personal representative to manage and oversee the decedent’s estate. Often, personal representatives are named by the decedent in the will, but if no will exists then the probate court will appoint one.
The personal representative’s responsibilities are many, including:
- Gathering, valuing, and protecting the decedent’s probate assets,
- Publishing a “Notice to Creditors” in a local newspaper in order to give notice to potential claimants to file claims,
- Conducting a reasonably diligent search to locate creditors and notifying these creditors of the deadline to file a claim,
- Paying valid creditor claims, but objecting to and defending against improper claims,
- Filing tax returns and paying any taxes owed by the estate,
- Distributing probate assets and property to the beneficiaries and heirs, and
- Closing the probate estate.
Moreover, the probate court oversees the activities of the personal representative, and requires that they obtain prior permission of the court before certain actions may be taken, such as selling real estate or business interests owned by the estate. Mismanagement or impropriety by the personal representative could make them liable to the beneficiaries for any harm they may suffer.