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The Role of the Personal Representative

Lewis & Van Sickle, LLC Nov. 21, 2023

Old Man Visiting Attorney in Testament ConceptIf you’ve been appointed as the Personal Representative (executor) of a loved one’s estate, you may not know the extent of your responsibilities. And that’s okay. A loved one’s death can be a devastating event, and navigating your new role may add stress to your life during an already difficult time. A skilled probate attorney can help you to fully understand your role as the Personal Representative, as well as assist you in carrying out those duties. 

Whether you’ve been appointed to act as a Personal Representative or you’re thinking of appointing someone to act our your behalf when you die, it’s important to hire an experienced probate and estate lawyer. For help with these matters in Wisconsin, call us at Lewis & Van Sickle, LLC. Our Green Bay attorney James E. Lewis is ready to work with you to ensure that your loved one’s estate is managed effectively.  

What Is the Role of the Estate Executor?

When someone dies, the Personal Representative is responsible for handling the decedent’s estate until all assets have been handed over to the rightful heirs; duties include paying off taxes and debts and ensuring that all property is distributed to the intended beneficiaries. (If there is no will, an executor will be appointed by the probate court.) The executor has a “fiduciary duty” to manage the decedent’s estate honestly and to the best of their ability—while acting in the best interests of the inheritors of the estate.  

The Executor’s Specific Responsibilities

The executor is responsible for locating or obtaining all official documents (such as financial documents and the death certificate) to begin the probate process. 

If there is a will, the Personal Representative will usually have to file the will with the probate court and be present for probate court proceedings. Hiring an attorney is helpful in this case, as an attorney familiar with the probate process can help to make sure it runs as smoothly as possible. An attorney can handle probate court proceedings for you; however, the Personal Representative is still responsible for making all decisions relating to the estate.  

For estates under a certain asset threshold, the probate court is usually not required, but the Personal Rep. will still be responsible for paying off taxes and debts and distributing assets to the rightful heirs. The estate may be able to distribute some assets to the beneficiaries without those assets first passing through probate, such as assets held in a living trust.  

In addition to paying taxes, continuing expenses, legal fees, and debts, as well as distributing assets to the beneficiaries, the Personal Representative will be responsible for tying up the estate’s remaining loose ends. This could involve valuing assets, canceling credit cards, notifying government agencies of the decedent’s passing, and setting up a bank account to hold funds that are still owed to the decedent. The estate will be “closed” as soon as all assets are distributed according to the decedent’s wishes (or according to intestate state law if there is no will). 

Who Can Serve as an Executor in Wisconsin? 

In order to serve as an personal representative or executor in Wisconsin, you must be 18 years old or older, of sound mind, and be free of any serious criminal convictions. You can be named if you are a friend or family member of the decedent. 

When you are selecting an executor or Personal Representative for your estate, it is important to choose carefully. You will want to make sure that the person you nominate is trustworthy, has a competent grasp of the financial matters that will be involved in estate management, and will act impartially and in the best interest of your heirs.  

Grounds for Removal of the Executor

If the Personal Representative is found to have neglected their fiduciary duty, a judge can remove them. They can be removed for using estate funds improperly, stealing from the estate, failing to accurately manage the estate, violating court orders, or otherwise failing to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries.  

Compensation for the Executor 

A Personal Representative or executor is entitled to receive payout of the estate funds for their services. The probate court will decide upon the exact amount to be paid, which will vary depending on the value of the estate and the complexity of the proceedings.

Our Clients Matter Most

If you need assistance with appointing a Personal Representative or executor for your estate or with fulfilling your duties on behalf of the estate of a loved one, call us at Lewis & Van Sickle, LLC, serving Green Bay, Wisconsin as well as Brown, Oconto, Shawano, Kewaunee, and Door Counties. Our attorney James E. Lewis has spent over two decades helping his clients manage the estates of their loved ones and make their own estate plans. Don’t wait to secure the future of your family. Contact us today for an appointment.