A personal representative is the entity or individual appointed by the court to administer the estate of a decedent. In Arizona, the Superior Court has jurisdiction over estate matters and is considered the probate court. AZ Rev Stat § 14-1201(10) and 14-1302. The role of the personal representative is also referred to as an executor or administrator. The personal representative has the responsibility to ensure that the affairs of a decedent are properly taken care of after their death in accordance with the decedent’s will or in accordance with intestate succession laws if this person passed away with no will.
Understanding Personal Representative Duties
You’ll need to be clear in your duties immediately after being appointed or named in this role, as they will begin almost immediately and several action steps need to be taken as soon as possible. The personal representative’s core duties include:
- Identifying estate assets. Because one of the primary purposes of estate administration is to distribute the decedent’s assets, it’s critical that the personal representative understand what assets are part of the estate.
- Inventorying assets. Once the personal representative identifies estate assets, they must determine their date of death fair market value. All of this information must be put in an inventory. Upon request, the personal representative must send the inventory to interested parties. AZ Rev Stat § 14-3706
- Notifying creditors. Decedents typically leave behind debt. One of the goals of estate administration is to make sure the decedent’s debts are paid. The first step in the process is notifying creditors that the decedent passed away and the process for filing a claim. AZ Rev Stat § 14-3801
- Pay debts and expenses. The personal representative must review the claims filed and pay the ones deemed valid that were also filed on time. Expenses of administration are also paid from estate assets.
- Distributing assets. One of the last steps in the administration process is the distribution of assets. If the decedent left a will, the personal representative must distribute assets according to the directions in the will. Otherwise, assets must be distributed based on Arizona’s law of intestate succession. AZ Rev Stat § 14-2102 and 14-2103
Who Has the Right to Serve as Personal Representative?
Not just anyone can serve as a personal representative. In fact, states have rules over priority order. Who has the right to serve as personal representative depends on whether or not the decedent left a will with instructions. If the decedent died with a will in place at the time of their passing, the will is used. If no personal representative was named or if no will exists, then the court will be looking to appoint a person for this responsibility immediately thereafter. If more than one person is interested in serving as the personal representative, this can create issues.
If the decedent did die without a valid will per AZ Rev Stat § 14-3203, this determines who has the right to serve as personal representative. The usual first priority goes to the surviving spouse and then other persons who will inherit the property of the decedent under intestate statutes. One of the first steps that the personal representative in Arizona will need to take is identifying whether or not probate is needed. If the value of all personal property owned by the decedent at the time of their death, including jewelry, vehicles, and cash in their bank account is less than $75,000 and the net equity and real property is less than $100,000, involvement from the courts can be avoided completely, meaning that a simple affidavit process can be used to administer the estate quickly and inexpensively.
Deciding whether or not to accept the role is an honor since the decedent likely held you in high regard. Acting as personal representative, however, does involve considerable responsibility and you could be held personally liable by the decedent’s heirs if you make a mistake in the process.