When someone passes away, someone must be responsible for managing their property and settling their affairs. While it may seem logical for a family member such as the surviving spouse or child to be the person to take on the responsibility, legally, the estate must go through an administration process and the Probate Court must appoint the person to be in charge of the estate. The general term for this person is the “personal representative.” If the person was nominated in the decedent’s will, then they are called an “executor.” If they were not named in the will, the person is often referred to as an “administrator.” Nevertheless, their duties and responsibilities are the same. The personal representative is a fiduciary and as such they must perform their duties and responsibilities with the utmost honesty and care and with the best interests of the estate in mind.
Personal Representative Appointment
The person who applies for appointment does not have the authority to act on behalf of the estate until the court approves their petition. Upon approval the court will issue an order confirming the appointment.
Duties and Responsibilities
Once officially appointed by the court, the duties and responsibilities of the personal include:
- Notifying creditors and heirs. One of the primary objectives of estate administration is to make sure that the decedent’s debts are paid. To do this, the personal representative must notify claimants that the estate has been opened. This is done by publishing a notice in the newspaper. The personal representative must also notify the decedent’s heirs. RI Gen L § 33-22-2.
- Inventory the assets. Soon after the appointment, the personal representative must take control of estate assets and secure them. The personal representative must also create a written inventory all personal property in the estate that includes the value of the assets as of the date of the decedent’s death. The inventory should also include estate debt, but not real estate. RI Gen L § 33-9-1.
- Pay estate debts. Claimants must file claims within 6 months of the date that the first notification was published. The personal representative is required to only pay claims that were filed within the claims period. RI Gen L § 33-11-5. Claims are paid out of estate assets and only to the extent that are sufficient assets to cover the claims. If not, then the personal representative must follow state law that provide the order in which claims must be paid as follows:
- Decedent’s funeral expenses
- Medical expenses of decedent’s last illness
- Debts owed to the federal government
- Debts owed to the state of Rhode Island
- Past and future child support owed by the decedent
- Wages owed by decedent for performance of services up to 6 months prior to the decedent’s death
- Other debts filed within the claims period
- All other debts
- Asset distribution. Once the 6-month creditor claim period has passed and debts as well as expenses have been paid, the personal representative can seek permission from the Probate Court to distribute assets. The personal representative must submit to the court a final accounting and an Order of Distribution. The final accounting must detail the activities that the decedent accomplished during the administration period, including the assets received by the estate and the assets paid out of the estate. The proposed Order of Distribution must list each asset along with its value and the name of the person who is to receive it. Once the court signs the Order of Distribution, the personal representative can distribute the assets.If the decedent left a will, then assets must be distributed based on the terms of the will. If the decedent did not leave a valid will, the assets must be distributed according to Rhode Island’s rules of intestate succession. The decedent’s children, surviving spouse, and parents are first in line to inherit.
Compensation of Personal Representative
Under Rhode Island law, personal representatives are entitled to receive just compensation as determined by the Probate Court. RI Gen L § 33-14-8