Who's In Charge After A Death?

Posted on: 9 June 2020

Dealing with a loved one's death often presents the survivors with many stressful moments. The deceased has a great deal of control over how events unfold after their death, however, and leaving clear and well-thought-out instructions can play a key role in relieving family members of some of the burden. Often, loved ones need a go-to person to call on that is available when they call on them. Read on to find out more about the relationship between family members and the estate's personal representative (or executor).

Legally in Charge

If the deceased left a will — or even if they did not — the local county probate court is in charge of all decisions about the estate. The personal representative named in the deceased's will has to wait for the probate court to approve of their appointment, for example. If family members and others disagree with the choice of personal representative, they can contest that decision. If the will failed to name a personal representative or no will was found, the probate court itself will name a person. That decision can also be challenged. If family members or anyone else with an interest in the estate disagrees with any aspect of the will or the probate process they should consider speaking to a probate lawyer for advice and representation. Once the approval of the personal representative takes place, that person (or persons) will work to administer the estate from that time onward till probate has run its course.

When to Be Alarmed

In most cases, the personal representative is a close family member such as the spouse or the adult child of the deceased. In no cases, regardless of their relationship to the deceased, can the personal representative act on their own. They are meant to be guided by both the probate attorney and the probate court. Their duties and powers have limits and their actions must pass strict scrutiny. If any personal representative is found to use the duties of the job for their own self-gain, they could be charged with a crime. This is known as fiduciary responsibility. To help give you a better idea of what to expect and when a personal representative has crossed the line, take a look at some common examples of tasks:

  1. Keep the family members and beneficiaries of the estate informed about the probate progress.
  2. Distribute the assets of the estate according to the will.
  3. Sell property as needed to pay the bills of the estate.
  4. Provide the probate court with a financial accounting of all transactions.
  5. Get real estate and other property professionally appraised.
  6. Personal representatives may earn pay, depending on state law and the circumstances, but the amount is limited by law.
  7. Personal representatives may be beneficiaries of the will but the inheritance can be challenged.

Getting your own probate lawyer is not the same thing as contesting a will. You can and should protect your inheritance rights so speak to a lawyer about probate for your loved one.

For more information about wills, contact a law office like Wright Law Offices, PLLC.