Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing Your Personal Representative
One of the most important decisions you can make when planning your estate is your choice of personal representative (also known as an executor) in your Last Will and Testament. Your personal representative will play a key role in the probate process by preparing an inventory of your assets, filing your final tax return, paying off any debts, managing your property before it is distributed, and distributing your remaining assets to your beneficiaries' heirs. If you don't name a personal representative, then one will be appointed by the probate court in accordance with Arizona law — and that may not be the person you would've wanted managing your last affairs.
Make sure the person you choose will protect your legacy.
Unfortunately, too many people make mistakes when choosing their personal representatives, and those mistakes can significantly affect the probate process and its effects on your family. Here are four key mistakes to avoid when naming a personal representative.
1. Naming your eldest child (or anyone else) even though they aren't prepared
Your primary consideration when picking a personal representative should be whether they are reliable, responsible, and competent enough to do the job. You want someone who is detail-oriented and able to manage your estate in accordance with your wishes, rather than being influenced by family or other outside pressure. Other considerations include whether the personal representative lives nearby (since proximity makes it logistically easier to manage your property and appear in court) and whether they have the time and energy to do the job.
Given those considerations, you're under no obligation to choose your eldest child if a younger child or another relative would be a better personal representative. Be prepared to explain your rationale to your other children, but don't let perceived family obligations stop you from making the best decision for your legacy.
2. Naming more than one personal representative
While the law allows you to name co-personal representatives to share the job, we strongly advise against it. You might think that having more than one person in the role will allow them to share the workload, but the reality is that they will have to agree on every important decision regarding the estate. Not only does this slow things down (by having to get multiple signatures on documents), but it's a recipe for disaster if your co-personal representatives disagree on a decision. They may even have to go to court to settle their differences, which can not only cause legal and financial issues but also permanently damage relationships.
3. Not naming an alternate
While you shouldn't name more than one person to share the role of personal representative, you absolutely should name at least one person as a backup in case your first choice predeceases you or is otherwise unable or unwilling to serve. This maintains continuity in your estate plan and reduces the likelihood that the court will have to appoint a personal representative.
4. Not making sure your personal representative is prepared
This goes beyond making sure your personal representative has the time and ability to do the job. The more familiar they are with your estate, the easier it will be for them to manage it when the time comes. For instance, you need to tell your personal representative where your Last Will and Testament is located and put them in contact with your estate planning attorney. You also need to communicate with them about your wishes and make sure they know where your property is located. Ideally, your personal representative will already be involved in managing your money and property and can easily step into the role of managing your estate when you pass away.
The right attorney can help you choose the right personal representative.
When you need to choose a personal representative, it's always helpful to get input from someone who knows the probate process and knows Arizona law. The estate planning attorneys at Brown & Jensen can help you make the right decision and prepare your Last Will and Testament in a manner that complies with the law and reflects your last wishes. Don't take chances with your legacy. Contact us today to speak with an experienced attorney in a free consultation.