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What Is the Role of a Personal Representative in Probate?

When we pass away, legal mechanisms like wills, trusts and the probate process are in charge of distributing our estate.  During this process, a "personal representative" is often named to oversee the process.  What is a personal representative in probate and what are the duties associated with the role?

The personal representative is the person a testator names in his or her will to be in charge of handling estate administration. The personal representative can take the form of an executor or administrator.  Often, an alternative party is named in the event the personal representative is unable to assume the role for whatever reason. If the personal representative named in a will and alternative parties also named are unable to serve, then the probate court will name a party to fulfill the role. Sometimes, the court will nominate an institutional party, such as a bank, for the role.


The personal representative is allowed to be paid a fee for the services he or she performs. The fee, if any, is paid from the estate's monies. The amount of fee allowed to be paid to the personal representative is state-specific and varies by jurisdiction. A personal representative is not required to perform every task on his or her own. Representatives are permitted to hire legal counsel to perform appropriate tasks or to assist with the performance of tasks. The fees of counsel may be paid from the estate.

Duties and Responsibilities

The personal representative is charged with performing a multitude of tasks during estate administration. The following list is not intended to be an exhaustive listing of those tasks, but instead, an illustrative listing of duties a personal representative typically is called to perform during probate:

  • Obtaining the will
  • Obtaining death certificate certified copy
  • Finding beneficiaries mentioned in the will
  • Finding parties who require notification about the will, such as any children the decedent who are not named in the will
  • Determining if there are any assets subject to probate process
  • Filing a petition with the probate court, if probate is required in the particular state
  • Identifying assets of decedent
  • Gathering assets of decedent
  • Inventorying assets of decedent
  • Receiving payments on behalf of estate, such as interest, dividends, and income
  • Opening a checking account for estate
  • Determining who gets what and how much for the gifts made in the will
  • Valuing or appraising assets of estate
  • Providing legal notice to creditors and potential claimants of estate
  • Investigating validity of claims made against the estate and its assets
  • Paying funeral costs, debts of the estate, and valid claims against the estate
  • Paying estate administration expenses
  • Processing estate administration forms, ending utilities, closing charge card accounts, and alerting Social Security, Civil Service, and the Veterans Administration of the decedent's death, as required and appropriate
  • Filing income and estate taxes
  • Paying income and estate taxes
  • Distributing residual estate property pursuant to the will's provisions
  • Closing the probate process.