I’m a Personal Representative. Now What?

by | Apr 17, 2024

Being named personal representative in a Will or appointed by the court can feel like a tall order. You likely have many questions: What is probate? How does probate work? How long does probate take? What are my responsibilities during probate? Rest assured because at Axis Law Group, your local estate planning and probate law firm, we believe that knowledge fosters confidence. Continue reading for a comprehensive breakdown on what being a personal representative entails.

When is Probate Required?

Probate can often feel mysterious to people – you know it’s out there, but you don’t know what it is. Before showing you what’s behind the curtain and delving into what is probate, first let’s take a look at what causes probate. Probate is required if: (1) you have $82,000 (as of 2024) in total assets without beneficiary designations, or (2) you own real property like land or a house.

If either one of these factors apply to your estate, then probate could be in your future. For tips on how to avoid probate, see our other blog post here. When probate is required, then the role of personal representative will come into play. Next, we will examine what exactly is probate and outline a personal representative’s duties throughout the process.

What is Probate?

In its simplest form, probate is the legal process by which the court distributes the decedent’s assets. In Colorado, the probate process is required to last a minimum of six months. During this time, there are five primary steps that a personal representative will be involved in:

  1. Verifying the Will:

If the decedent had a Will, the court first examines the Will to determine if it is valid. This includes analyzing any proof of the decedent’s mental capacity when signing the Will. Understanding if the deceased was under any duress while signing the documents. Then examining if legal formalities were followed such as notary requirements, witnesses, etc.

If the court finds the Will is valid, then the Will acts as an instruction sheet for distributing the estate’s assets. If the court finds the Will is invalid, then the state’s intestacy laws come into effect and determine how the decedent’s estate is to be distributed.

  1. Appointing a Personal Representative:

One of the major functions of a Will, or the intestacy statute, is the appointing of a personal representative. A personal representative, also known as an executor, is the person who is in charge of administering the estate. Administering the estate boils down to making sure all of the assets are prepared to be sold or transferred to proper beneficiaries and that creditors have an opportunity to make a claim on the estate.

  1. Inventory of Assets:

As stated above, probate includes distributing the estate’s assets. In order to accurately and fairly administer the estate according to the decedent’s Will, or the intestacy statute, there must be an inventory of the estate. This inventory allows for the personal representative to then value the estate in its totality and understand if any assets have specific beneficiaries or creditors attached to them.

  1. Paying Creditors and Taxes:

Certain creditors have priority in payment over beneficiaries. Consequently, the personal representative must make sure that creditors are properly alerted and notified to the passing of the decedent. Typically, this process involves publishing in the local newspaper that the decedent has passed away, along with other details, for a three consecutive weeks. After the first publication,  creditors then have four months to file a claim with the court. If creditors fail to file a claim within this four-month period, then the estate has no obligation to pay the claim.

The personal representative must also pay the estate’s taxes. Doing this requires specific knowledge about what forms need to be filed for the deceased. As such, best practice would be to work with a CPA familiar with filing taxes for probate.

  1. Distribution:

Last, but not least, is distribution of the remainder of the estate to beneficiaries. As previously mentioned, distribution to beneficiaries can follow the dictates of a will if the court finds the will to be valid. If the will is invalid, or if the decedent passed without a will, then the distribution pattern follows the intestacy statute.

How Legal Guidance Can Help?

If the above details about the probate process and the personal representative’s duties feel overwhelming, don’t worry. At Axis Law Group, we help plenty of people walk through this process. The following are some ways we lend a hand:

  1. Estate Planning:

If you get your estate plan done with us, then you can rest assured that your documents will be found valid if your estate requires probate. No need to fret over legal formalities. We understand what needs to be done on the front end of things so that if probate is required then your documents will stand up to judicial scrutiny.

  1. Opening Probate:

Knowing where to start can be a challenge. At Axis Law Group, we help get the ball rolling so that probate can begin and end as soon as possible. Whether you’re dealing with a will or not, allow our attorneys to help you in this difficult time.

  1. Inventory and Creditors:

Our attorneys at Axis Law Group provide you with tips and helpful forms to assist you in inventorying the estate. We also put out notice to creditors so that you don’t have to worry about this step in the probate process. Moreover, it is a part of our routine day to communicate and negotiate with creditors to lower their claims. By doing so, beneficiaries will have a greater likelihood of receiving their due.

By helping the personal representative understand the timeline and deadlines, facilitating communication with beneficiaries, and maintaining accurate records, Axis Law Group makes the probate process and your time as personal representative as smooth and simple as possible. Book a meeting with one of our attorneys today and let us help you through this difficult time and process.