How to Choose a Personal Representative

We recently worked with a client who asked us how she should choose her personal representative. The PR carries out instructions in a will. (An executor is for all intents and purposes identical to a PR.) We realized that this rather common question was worthy of an entry on these pages.

A PR should be young enough to last beyond your lifetime, for one thing. If you want to name a spouse or relative of similar age, go ahead, but do name an alternate.

The PR can be a beneficiary of your will – there’s no law against that. But your PR should be able to get along with your other beneficiaries, and she should be responsible enough to make arrangements that may be needed, such as running an estate sale or hiring it done, investigating your safe deposit box, and so forth. The PR should be trustworthy – in fact in some states PRs and executors must post a bond in order to do the job.

For legal reasons, you cannot name anyone with a felony conviction or a foreign person. It’s better if your PR lives at least within a reasonable distance of you, but that’s not necessary.

Clients often name a son, daughter or in-law to this job, but this can cause strife among siblings. A close personal friend is an alternative; some attorneys (though fewer every day) and some accountants (ditto) will act; or you can hire a professional PR.

Acting as PR, depending on the condition of your estate, can be like having a second job for a while! The PR deserves compensation and more than likely a family member will charge less than a professional. Still, a professional brings efficiency and emotional distance to the equation, which might be desirable.

Keeping in mind the nature of the job, you can do your part by working to streamline your estate – have a will, take care to leave specific instructions for personal items, be as detailed as possible. If appropriate, make sure to discuss the job ahead of time with whomever you name.

Finally, if in doubt, get advice from your attorney. He’s been around this block more than once!