When a person dies in Florida, his or her assets are often distributed through a legal process called probate. A personal representative plays a key role in that process by ensuring that any outstanding debts and obligations are resolved and that the assets are distributed according to the deceased person’s wishes. That process can be made easier by seeking the counsel of an experienced Miami estate planning attorney.
The personal representative, as the name suggests, is the person or entity designated to essentially stand in for the deceased during probate. The representative is often designated in a will. In situations in which the will doesn’t identify a personal representative, the role may be filled by a majority vote of the people who are entitled to the estate or may be appointed by a judge. In the event that a person dies without a will, a surviving spouse, a person selected by the heirs, or a person appointed by the court (in that order) will be named personal representative.
To serve as a personal representative, you must live in Florida or be a close relative of the deceased person. You also must be at least 18 years old, physically and mentally capable, and have no felony convictions on your record.
How Probate Works
The probate process usually starts when the personal representative files a petition—along with the will—in the local court. The representative also has to file an inventory listing the deceased person’s assets and their estimated value. He or she is additionally required to notify potential creditors and others with possible interests in the estate.
Personal Representative Responsibilities
A personal representative should seek a court order authorizing the representative to gather all of the deceased person’s assets, use them to pay any outstanding debts, taxes or other expenses and distribute the assets as directed in the will. The representative is expected to defend the will against any challenges and pay all valid claims, as ordered by the court.
Florida law imposes a fiduciary duty on personal representatives. That means the representative has to refrain from any sort of self-dealing and avoid conflicts of interest. Asset distributions that involve a conflict may be voided by a court, unless it is expressly directed in the will or the other interested parties consent to the distribution.
Contact a Miami Estate Planning Attorney at Hoffman & Hoffman P.A. Today
Hoffman & Hoffman is a South Florida estate planning law firm whose attorneys help people manage their assets and decide how property will be distributed in the event of their death. We are pleased to represent clients throughout South Florida, including in Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Coconut Grove. Contact us to speak with an attorney today.