Who do you trust to carry out your wishes and make sure that your affairs are handled, when you’re no longer around to oversee these crucial decisions? While thinking about estate planning is not always the most enjoyable experience, it’s an incredibly important step forward — one that can help make things easier for your loved ones, protect your finances, and help keep you in control of the things that matter most.
Estate planning involves using a variety of tools — including wills, trusts, and powers of attorney — to assure you can maintain control, even when you are unable to speak on your own behalf. The instruments that you use will depend on the specifics of your circumstances.
A crucial part of crafting your last will is to nominate the individual that you wish to serve as the personal representative for your estate. (This role is often known as the executor of the estate, in many other states outside of Michigan). The personal representative is the person tasked with guiding your estate through the probate courts, following the directions set down by your will. A personal representative is a fiduciary, meaning that they have a duty to put the interests of the estate before their own. Depending on the specific circumstances of the estate, a personal representative will take on many crucial duties, including:
- Collecting, inventorying, managing, and protecting estate assets
- Notifying and paying creditors of the estate
- Providing an accounting of estate assets
- Communicating with all interested parties to the estate, as necessary
- Handling payments to and from the estate, including tax obligations
- Making distributions to the appropriate parties
- Closing the estate
You need someone in place that can handle these many responsibilities. Often, married people choose their spouse to serve as their personal representative. Children or close family members are also often called on to handle the responsibility. For those who can’t rely on family or friends, who don’t want to burden their loved ones with a difficult estate, or who want to bring on an impartial outsider, a professional personal representative is also a viable option.
Curious about who in your life should be considered as a personal representative? Here are some questions to ask as you weigh this important estate planning decision:
Are They Trustworthy and Reliable?
Being a fiduciary requires a high level of trustworthiness and skill. As the State Bar of Michigan once put it:
A PR must not only be honest and impartially fair but must also be diligent, responsible, and prudent in the completion of his or her legally imposed obligations.
Do you trust your nominated personal representative to put the needs of the estate above their own? Will they make decisions that are truly in the best interests of your estate and its named beneficiaries? Are they capable of handling the complex financial matters that can go into handling an estate — from creating an inventory of assets, to paying creditors, to managing investments and maximizing the value of the estate assets?
Do you trust them to consult with experienced professionals to handle these important matters, such as a local attorney, accountant, or financial manager? Will they invest the time and attention that complex estate matters may require? For that matter, do you trust that they will be willing and able to serve as your personal representative in the first place?
As you start to consider choosing a personal representative, or any other fiduciary — such as a a guardian or trustee — it is important to remember that this process is not about making people feel equal. It is about ensuring your wishes are respected and carried out when you no longer have a say in the matter. The most important thing about choosing your personal representative is that they are the truly best choice for your circumstances.
Are They Accessible and Easy to Communicate With?
From notifying and responding to creditors; to passing relevant information and updates along to friends and family of the decedent; to staying in close contact with the court during formal or supervised administration proceedings, the personal representative will be responsible for handling a lot of communication.
While a PR will likely employ an attorney or other professionals to assist with the estate’s administration, the PR is still ultimately responsible for ‘getting the job done.’ … It is very important that a PR timely communicate with and respond to any inquiries of beneficiaries and others who have an interest in the estate as it progresses.
Is this someone who you can count on to be patient and fair when it comes to communicating with all of the parties involved in estate administration? Is this someone who you can communicate effectively with now, and with whom you feel comfortable discussing sensitive matters like the location of your essential estate planning documents or the types of probate assets that will be involved in your estate?
Are They Organized and Efficient?
The probate process can be quick and painless, or time-intensive and tedious. Part of this depends on the actions you take to simplify, streamline, or avoid probate while you have the chance. But it’s also important to keep in mind that probate can drag on if the personal representative doesn’t meet important deadlines, procrastinates on important decisions, makes small unforced errors, or drops the ball on responding to communications from creditors or the courts. These little errors and mistakes can extend the estate administration process, open the door to conflicts and litigation, and slow down the transfer of many important assets — which could seriously impact your family in an already-difficult time
If You’re Choosing Multiple Representatives, Could There Be Room for Arguments or Conflict?
During the estate planning process, you may consider naming multiple people to serve as co-representatives, or setting up an estate plan that involves multiple people handling different tasks — such as naming different parties to serve as PR, conservator, trustee, and guardian.
As you weigh these decisions, it’s important to consider the unique dynamics of your family and friends. Could dividing up these responsibilities create friction and open up the door to potential disputes or conflicts?
As writer G.M. Filisko once put it in an article for the AARP:
Be aware of family tensions before naming co-executors or trustees… Instead of focusing on ‘being fair’ to your children [or other family members] aim to prevent family conflict.
When Was the Last Time You Updated Your Estate Plan?
The only constant over the course of a lifetime is change. For this reason, it’s important to regularly review and update your estate plan, in order to ensure that it truly reflects your current goals.
This may include revisiting who you are naming to serve as personal representative, particularly if you’ve experienced a change in your personal relationships or family circumstances, such as divorce, estrangement, or the passing of a loved one.
It is also important to consider naming a successor personal representative, in case your first choice is no longer willing or able to serve.
Meanwhile, it may also be worth revisiting these important decisions if you acquire new assets, or if your estate becomes more complex for one reason or another. Remember, choosing a personal representative is about choosing the best possible person to manage your estate and fulfill your wishes; this means choosing the person you can trust to capably and expeditiously see their many responsibilities through to the end.
Are They Located Close to the Probate Court?
While physical proximity isn’t necessarily a “make or break” factor in naming a personal representative, it is worth considering — particularly depending on the goals of your will. In particular, if your personal representative will need to gather and catalog a lot of physical assets, or you anticipate them spending a lot of time dealing with matters in the courts, it may be beneficial to turn these important duties over to a trusted adviser who lives in your neighborhood — versus a family member located on the other side of the state (or across the country).
Looking for Guidance for All Things Estate Planning and Probate?
If you are considering who to name as a personal representative for your estate, it may help to consult with an experienced and knowledgeable probate and estate planning attorney. A skilled and sympathetic attorney can help you understand the unique variables of your situation and create a plan that will suit your needs as you weigh this important decision, along with other crucial estate planning matters — including who to name as a successor trustee, or what powers to delegate to an agent through a durable power of attorney.
Setting up a last will and planning ahead for probate aren’t always the most pleasant things to think about. However, it’s very important to take action while you can. If you want to ensure your final wishes are carried out, legal help from our attorney Dean E. Patrick can make that happen. Consulting with Mr. Patricks is the first step in making sure your possessions and the people you care about are taken care of when you’re gone.
Mr. Patrick is knowledgeable on all aspects of Michigan probate and estate planning, with years of experience as a practicing attorney. Whenever you’re ready to get started, he is here to listen, learn more about your circumstances, and start finding a solution to your desired outcome – with the expertise, empathy, intellect, and professionalism your situation requires at every step of the way.
Interested in learning more? Ready to keep the conversation going? If you have any questions, please contact our Southfield, Michigan office at (833) 469-4897 to set up your initial consultation. You may also click here to get in touch online today!
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