A personal representative is the person or entity appointment by the probate court to care for the estate of a decedent during the administration process. “Executor” is the term used for “personal representative” when they are named in the decedent’s will. While the District Court has jurisdiction over probate and estate matters in North Dakota, it is the personal representative who is responsible for ensuring that the day-to-day activities of settling the estate are properly taken care of.
Personal Representative Appointment
Oftentimes the personal representative is named by the decedent in their will. This does not mean that that person automatically is the personal representative and can immediately represent the estate. Whether the personal representative is nominated in the will or not, they must petition the court and the court must approve the petition before they have legal authority as personal representative. N.D.C.C. § 30.1-17-01
Duties and Responsibilities
Prior to being appointed by the District Court, the personal representative has only very limited authority to act on behalf of the estate. The personal representative is only permitted to follow the decedent’s written instructions related to funeral and burial. N.D.C.C. § 30.1-18-01. Once appointed, the personal representative must move forward expeditiously with the tasks necessary to settle the decedent’s estate.
- Notify beneficiaries and heirs. Everyone who has an interest in a decedent’s estate must be notified of the appointment of a personal representative, as that signals the opening of the estate and the beginning of the administration process. This means that beneficiaries named in the will as well as the next of kin (intestate heirs), must be notified by the personal representative within 30 days of their appointment. N.D.C.C. § 30.1-18-05
- Inventory the assets. Once the personal representative takes control over estate assets, they must make a list of all of the assets as well as their fair market value. This is called an inventory. The inventory must be filed with the court on the proper form. The deadline for filing is either 6 months after the appointment of the personal representative or 9 months after the death of the decedent. Understanding that the personal representative may not have the skill or tools to determine the fair market value of every asset in the estate, the personal representative is permitted to hire appraisers to determine fair market value of assets.The personal representative may file the original inventory with the court, and they must provide a copy to any interested party who requests a one. N.D.C.C. § 30.1-18-06
- Pay estate debts. While the focus of estate administration is often on asset distribution, debt payment is a priority of the process. In fact, it takes priority over asset distribution. First, the personal representative must notify creditors to let them know that the estate is open, the manner of filing claims, and the deadline for filing claims. Notification is made by publication. The notice must be published once a week for three successive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the county. For known creditors, the personal representative must mail notices. N.D.C.C. § 30.1-19-01Creditors have 3 months from the date of the first publication of the notice or mailing. It is critical for creditors to keep in mind the deadline for filing claims because under the law, claims that are filed after the deadline are barred. Furthermore, the personal representative is required to pay claims that are filed on time only if there is enough money in the estate.
- Asset distribution. Once debts and expenses are paid, the personal representative can petition the court to distribute assets. In the petition the personal representative may ask the court to approve the final accounting and distribution of assets. After notice to all interested persons and a hearing, the court may enter an order or orders approving settlement and approving distribution of the estate. N.D.C.C. § 30.1-21-01. The personal representative must also seek an order from the court discharging them from their responsibilities.
Under North Dakota law, personal representatives are entitled to be paid for their work. The amount is based on what the testator determined the compensation should be as stated in the will. If there is no will or if the personal representative decides to reject what the will provides, the court will determine a reasonable fee based on the work that the personal representative completed during the administration process. N.D.C.C. § 30.1-18-19