When an estate enters the probate process, the probate court will appoint a “personal representative” to manage and oversee the estate of the decedent. (You may also see the terms “executor/-trix” or “administrator/-trix” in other states).
An individual or a bank or trust (subject to certain restrictions) can be appointed as personal representative. If the decedent had a valid will, the probate court will appoint the person named by the decedent in the will as personal representative, provided that the named person is qualified to serve as the personal representative.
If the decedent died intestate (i.e. without a will), the right to serve as personal representative first passes to the surviving spouse, then to the person or entity chosen by a majority of the deceased’s heirs, and finally, if no decision is reached, to a court-appointed representative.
The personal representative is responsible for valuing and protecting the assets, giving notice to creditors, paying outstanding debts, and distrubiting the property and assets of the estate.
Finally, 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. Mismanagement could make the personal representative liable to the beneficiaries for any harm they may suffer.