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What should I look for when choosing a personal representative?

Experts say that a good personal representative has several important qualities.

When in the process of making out a will, it is easy to focus on how your assets will be distributed and neglect other important considerations. One such consideration is the choice of a personal representative (also known as an executor). Since this role is a very important one, it is imperative to choose a competent person. Neglecting to do so, may cause your estate to be tied up in probate litigation and suffer other undesirable outcomes.

Under Virginia law, the duties of personal representatives include:

• Gathering and taking possession of the estate assets

• Notifying creditors of the death and paying all valid claims

• Protecting and investing the assets

• Calculating and paying income and estate taxes

• Distributing the assets to the heirs and beneficiaries named in the will

• Accounting to the court regarding the distribution of assets

Unfortunately, when faced with the choice of a personal representative, many people default to a close relative. Unfortunately, this is not always the best decision, according to experts. Instead of solely considering the person's relation to you, it is recommended that you consider the following factors in a candidate:

Ability of person. As discussed earlier, the personal representative's role is important, so the person chosen should have considerable maturity, honesty and judgment to competently manage the estate's assets and ensure all obligations are carried out. Since a significant portion of the role involves dealing with bills and legal documents, a person with a legal or financial background is especially well suited.

Availability. To adequately carry out the duties of personal representative, a significant amount of time is required. Thus, you should ensure that the person you choose is able to devote the time needed.

Experience. If your estate is large, complex or involves a significant amount of property in other states, a layperson may not be suitable for the role. In such cases, it may be better to hire an attorney experienced with estate administration issues to handle the special needs of your estate.

Patience. At times, the job of personal representative requires the person to deal with upset and frustrated family members that may be fighting with each other. As a result, the candidate should have patience and conflict resolution skills.

When you have decided on a candidate, it is important to let them know about your decision, so they can tell you whether they would like to accept the role. Since your original choice may later change his or her mind, die or become unable to act, it is a good idea to name an alternate in your will.

An attorney can assist you

Experienced estate planning attorneys have worked with personal representatives of all kinds. As a result, it is valuable to get their guidance on the subject during the estate planning process. Doing so can ensure that the important process of winding down of your estate is handled in a competent and efficient manner.


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