With respect to the estate they are charged with managing, a personal representative is considered a fiduciary. In this role, they are required by law to manage the estate with the highest degree of honesty and care and to focus on its best interests. The personal representative is sometimes referred to as the “executor.” They are responsible for settling the estate and distributing its assets in accordance with the terms of their will, if any, and Nebraska law. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 30-2464. The County Court (probate court) oversees the personal representative’s activities, and the personal representative is answerable to the County Court that has jurisdiction over the matter.
Personal Representative Appointment
If the decedent left a will, typically they would have nominated their choice for personal representative (executor) in the will. Even of the decedent nominated someone, anyone wishing to be appointed personal representative must apply for the position by petitioning the court. The court will review the petition or petitions and will appoint the applicant who is both qualified and eligible. Before the court will issue an order confirming the appointment, the petitioner may be required to post a bond and must sign a letter of acceptance. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 30-2444
Duties and Responsibilities
Once qualified, the personal representative must quickly move forward with the tasks necessary to settle the decedent’s estate.
- Inventory the assets. One of the first tasks is to identify estate property, take charge of it, and inventory it. An inventory is a list of the assets and their value. Within three months after appointment, they must prepare and file an inventory of property owned by the decedent at the time of death. The inventory must include a description with reasonable detail as well as each item’s fair market value as of the date of the decedent’s death and the type and amount of any encumbrance on the property. A copy must also be sent to interested persons who request it. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 30-2467
- Pay estate debts. An important duty of the personal representative is to make sure that debts owed by the decedent are paid. First the creditors must be notified by publication. The publication must state how to file a claim and the deadline for doing so. Once 2 months had passed from the date of the initial publication of the notice to creditors, claims that were timely filed must be paid in the order of priority prescribed. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 30-2489. Top priority goes to payment of family allowances followed by costs and fees of administration, reasonable funeral expenses, and federal debts and taxes. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 30-2487. It the estate runs out of money to pay debt, some debt with a lower priority will not be paid.
- Asset distribution and closing of estate. Once estate debt, expenses, and taxes are paid, the personal representative can distribute assets that remain in the estate to the beneficiaries or heirs. However, the personal representative must first get permission from the court. To do so, they must submit to the court a statement indicating that the estate has been fully administered. They must also submit the proposed scheme of asset distribution. Once the court approves the proposed distribution, the personal representative can distribute assets. Assets must be distributed according to the terms of the will or, in the absence of a will, according to Nebraska’s rules of intestate succession.
Personal Representative Compensation
Contrary to what some believe, a personal representative is paid for their work based on either the compensation arrangement mentioned in the will or based on what the court decides. If the will provides for compensation, the personal representative can choose to accept what is provided in the will or to renounce it and accept what the court determines is appropriate compensation. The court will determine what is reasonable based on the work performed by the personal representative. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 30-2480