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Court of Wills, Estates & Probate

The following articles were written by former Probate Judge Merri Rudd.

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Personal Representatives

10:33 AM
Merri Rudd

Q: In a recent column about how long probate can take, you mentioned the role of the personal representative. My impression is that this individual must either have sufficient legal background or hire an attorney to help her/him through the probate process. How can the typical representative possibly handle probate without outside support, and does he/she get paid? J.D., Albuquerque

A: The personal representative (called an executor or administrator in other states) is appointed by a court to handle the business matters and distribute the assets of a deceased person. The more you tell your personal representative before you die, the better your personal representative will be able to act for your estate.

Serving as personal representative is a time-consuming job. The personal representative is a fiduciary in the eyes of the law and has numerous required duties. Personal representatives do not need legal backgrounds, but some who serve do better jobs than others. Being business-minded, organized, diligent, honest, and good-natured are helpful qualities.

Before choosing a personal representative, discuss the responsibilities the personal representative is agreeing to undertake. Your personal representative should be familiar with your assets, your wishes, and where you store records, including your original will, if any.

The do-it-yourself forms for Probate Court (www.bernco.gov, click on "Probate Judge," then "Probate Forms") contain detailed instructions about how to prepare the court paperwork. Most people can do a simple probate without an attorney’s help, but personal representatives should hire attorneys to help with more complex estates. Using estate assets, personal representatives may also hire appraisers, tax preparers, accountants, investment advisors, or others to help them.

In addition to preparing appropriate paperwork for a probate, a personal representative's tasks may include:

  • canceling credit cards to prevent unauthorized charges;
  • locating family members, heirs, or devisees;
  • holding an estate sale and clearing out the decedent’s house;
  • filing decedent’s final federal and state income tax returns;
  • filing an estate income tax return if estate assets will earn more than $600 gross income in a year;
  • filing federal and state estate tax returns for estates exceeding $1,000,000;
  • creating a list of the decedent’s assets;
  • giving notice to creditors and paying valid claims;
  • making an accounting of estate expenses and income; and,
  • distributing assets to the heirs or devisees, following the will or intestate succession laws.

My staff and I recently completed a brochure titled Duties of the Personal Representative, which may help those who choose to serve without an attorney’s aid. View it online using the link above or for a free copy of this brochure, send a self-addressed, stampedenvelope to: Probate Court, One Civic Plaza NW, 6th floor, Albuquerque NM 87102.

Yes, personal representatives may be paid. My next column will discuss personal representatives’ fees.

© 2002, Merri Rudd & Albuquerque Journal, All Rights Reserved

Appeared May 16, 2002, Albuquerque Journal, Business Outlook
Reprinted with permission

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