An executor is the person who is responsible for managing the estate of a deceased person during probate and estate administration. In Wyoming, an executor is commonly referred to as a personal representative. The term “estate administrator” is often used when there is no will. Wy. Stat. § 2-4-201. The primary jobs of the personal representative are to pay estate debt and to transfer title to the remaining assets to the appropriate people. However, there are several tasks that the personal representative must care for along the way. While the personal representative has some discretion in the way they perform their duties, their actions are overseen by the probate court. Further, a personal representative is a fiduciary with respect to the estate. This means that the personal representative is in a position of trust with respect to the estate, requiring them to act with prudence and to make decisions that are not only consistent with Wyoming’s Wills, Decedents’ Estates and Probate Code and other applicable law, but also that are in the best interests of the estate.
If the decedent left a will, the person named as executor or personal representative in the will is typically the person that serves in that role. However, there are eligibility requirements. Whether or not they were nominated in the decedent’s will, anyone wishing to serve as personal representative must first petition the court requesting to be appointed and the court must approve the petition.
To qualify, the petitioner must be competent, a U.S. resident, and U.S. citizen. In the absence of a will, there are rules related to who is entitled to serve as estate administrator. While multiple family members may want the job, under Wy. Stat. § 2-4-201 there is an order of priority:
- Decedent’s child
- Decedent’s parent
- Decedent’s sibling
- Decedent’s grandchild
- A next of kin entitled to part of the estate
- A creditor
- Any legally competent person.
If the court approves the petition, it will issue the personal representative a document called “letters testamentary” or “letters of administration” that serve as legal proof that the person has court approval to act on the behalf of the estate. For example, with the letters the personal representative will be able to open a bank account in the name of the estate. There are legal penalties including jail time and/or a fine for administering an estate without letters. Wy. Stat. § 2-7-107.
Executor Duties and Responsibilities
Once appointed, the executor or personal representative has overall responsibility for completing tasks necessary to settle the decedent’s estate and distribute assets.
Take control of assets. One of the first tasks of the personal representative is to identify estate assets and take control of them. The personal representative is entitled to possession of all real and personal property that belongs to the estate. Wy. Stat. § 2-7-401. As a fiduciary, the personal representative must not do anything that causes the value of the estate to diminish. Thus, possession also means that the personal representative must take care of the property, secure it, and keep it in good repair.
Inventory and appraise the assets. The personal representative is required to inventory the estate and determine the value of each asset. It may be necessary for the personal representative to hire professional appraisers to determine the value of certain estate assets. The personal representative must file the inventory with the probate court within 120 days of when they were appointed. Wy. Stat. § 2-7-403. Within 120 days of filing the inventory, the personal representative must file an appraisal. Wy. Stat. § 2-7-403. The appraisal is critical as it will let the personal representative and the court know how much is available to pay estate debt and distribute to beneficiaries and heirs.
Pay estate debts. The next major task of the personal representative is to pay estate debts. The personal representative is required to notify creditors. Creditors are notified by mail and by publication. They must file claims with the personal representative within a set timeframe based on when notification was sent or published. Generally, if a claim is not timely filed, it is forever barred. Wy. Stat. § 2-7-703. The personal representative is required to pay from estate assets valid, timey filed claims to the extent there are assets in the estate to do so. Failure to do so may result in personal liability to the personal representative.
Pay expenses and taxes. In addition to paying debt, the personal representative is also required to pay expenses of administration. Examples of expenses of administration include expenses related bank accounts, asset appraisals, title searches, maintenance and repair of estate assets, protection of estate assets, property insurance, preparation of tax returns, publications and mailings, and locating heirs and beneficiaries. In addition, the personal representative must pay any taxes that are due.
Final report and accounting. After debt, expenses, and taxes are paid, the personal representative must file their final report and accounting with the probate court. The final report should contain all the steps that have been taken to settle the estate, including a detailed accounting of the estate assets, and a proposed distribution of the remaining estate assets. The court will hold a hearing regarding the final report and will address timely objections filed by interested parties. The court must approve the final report and accounting before assets can be distributed. Wy. Stat. § 2-7-703.
Distribute estate assets. After the court approves the final report and accounting, it will issue a decree of distribution allowing the personal representative to distribute the estate’s assets to the beneficiaries named in the will or to intestate heirs. Wy. Stat. § 2-7-813.
Personal representatives receive payment for their services based on a statutory schedule that is based on the value of probate estate assets:
- 10.0% for the first $1000
- 5.0% for assets with a value of $1,000 to $5000
- 3.0% for assets with a value over $5000 and up to $20,000
- 2.0% for assets with a value over $20,000
Wy. Stat. § 2-7-803