How To Pick A Personal Representative For Your Will
Updated: Sep 14
One of the most important decisions when preparing your estate plan is choosing who to name as your Personal Representative. There are several aspects to consider, and not all of them are intuitive. Your PR will have control over your assets and will also have responsibility for distributing your assets to those named in your Will, paying any debts, and filing estate tax returns with the IRS and/or state, among other things.
In the emotional process of preparing your estate plan, it is important to take a step back and consider the issues and alternatives.
You May Not Want To Name Your Spouse
Married couples want to name their spouse as their Personal Representative. Generally, a spouse is the person who is most familiar with your wishes, your philosophy, and why your estate should be distributed as stated in your Will - all important considerations for a Personal Representative. However, the time commitment required, the organizational skills, and the potential friction inherent in the process can be a burden. Many people feel that naming their spouse is an expression of trust, but it is important to discuss whether a child, sibling, friend or professional would in fact be a kinder option.
In mature families, the second choice for Personal Representative is often an adult child. In the absence of other considerations, parents often name their children oldest to youngest, as an impartial way to choose who is named first. Again, however, consideration should be given to the responsibilities that come with being named. The individual named must be organized and detail-oriented, must commit the time and energy necessary for the role, respect and carry out your wishes, and keep the peace among the beneficiaries of your estate.
If one child is more suited to this role, consider naming them; if none of them are, consider another individual or a professional. If choosing one child over another might cause hurt feelings, assigning other roles, such as Health Care Proxy, to the child who is not named as a Personal Representative can reassure them that their relationship and their input is valued.
Time Flies When You're Having Fun
Your estate plan is meant to last you many years. In the meantime, though, we are all getting older, and our circumstances are changing. Periodically review your estate plan to make sure that the choices you made when you created it still make sense. A brother who is 55 and healthy may be a good choice as a Personal Representative, but an additional 15 years or an intervening disability may mean that it's time for a change. Even with careful planning for successors and alternates, children become adults, friendships fade, and marriages fail, making changes necessary.
The best way to ensure that your wishes will be carried out upon your death and to avoid conflict for your loved ones is to plan and communicate now. Think carefully about what are the important characteristics for your Personal Representative, and then communicate your wishes to that person and to your family or other beneficiaries. Remember to provide the contact information for your attorney, accountant and other professional advisors, so that we can make the process as smooth as possible when the time comes.
If I can help you choose a Personal Representative, or with any other aspect of your estate plan, please contact us at CHargrove@cshlawllc.com