In Alabama, a personal representative is the person who is appointed by the Probate Court to perform the activities necessary to settle the estate of someone who has passed away. By law they are considered a fiduciary. This means that all of their activities must be completed with a high degree of care and with the interests of the estate and its beneficiaries in mind. In other words, their actions must reflect what is in the best interest of the estate and not what is in their own best interest. A breach of fiduciary duty can have dire consequences, including removal. Ala. Code § 43-2-290
Executor vs Administrator
A personal representative is the general term for the person or entity whose job is care for and settle the estate of a decedent. Other terms for a personal representative include executor and administrator. The main difference is how the personal was appointed.
An executor is a personal representative who is named by a decedent in their will. Ala. Code § 43-2-20. That person who still have to be formally appointed by court. An administrator is a personal representative who is not named in a will. If the decedent was intestate, meaning they did not leave a will, then anyone who wishes to serve as administrator can petition the court. This is also the case if the person nominating in the will choose to renounce the nomination. Someone else could then petition the court to serve as personal representative. That person would be an administrator.
Who Is Eligible to Serve as Personal Representative?
The person who has the top priority in serving as personal representative, is the person who the decedent named in their will. By naming them in the will, the decedent makes it clear who their choice is, and the court is respectful of the decedent’s wishes as memorialized in the will.
If there is no will, no one is named in the will, or the person named in the will is unwilling to serve, unable to service, or disqualified from serving, upon petition, the court will appoint someone else. To be eligible to serve, the person must:
- Be at least 19 years old
- Not have been convicted of an infamous crime
- Must not be incompetent
- Be trustworthy
- Be a resident of Alabama (unless they are at the time executor or administrator of the same estate in some other state or territory or jurisdiction).
Ala. Code § 43-2-22
Preference is given to spouses, next of kin, largest in state creditors and any other person except in counties of over 400,000 people which makes the general administrator or the country administrator next in line behind the biggest in state creditor of the estate.
Personal Representative in Alabama Role: What to Expect
Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, the role of the personal representative can be a significant one, requiring an understand on Alabama law related to the administration of estates and requiring a lot of time. Part of a personal representative’s fiduciary duty is to not take on tasks outside of their abilities or expertise. Instead, it would be appropriate for them to hire other to perform those tasks.
A personal representative’s role is to handle estate administration including management of the probate estate for the benefit of interested parties. To do so, tasks they may have to complete include:
- Identify and inventory estate assets. An estate may include a variety of types of assets, including real estate, bank accounts, vehicles, and personal property. The personal representative must determine the value of the assets of the date of the decedent’s death. The personal representative must also prepare an inventory that includes the value of the assets.
- Notify creditors and pay claims. The personal representative must also notify creditors of the estate and pay claims submitted by those creditors.
- Pay taxes and expenses. Debts of the estate may also include taxes owed and expenses related to the administration of the estate
- Distribute assets. If the decedent left a will, the executor would be required to distribute assets according to the terms of the will. If the decedent did not leave a will, the administrator would be required to distribute assets according to the laws of intestate succession