Personal Representatives in Florida
“Personal Representative” is the term used in Florida to refer to the person or entity appointed by a judge that is responsible for administering a decedent’s financial affairs. In some states the personal representative is referred to as the “executor” or “administrator” of the estate. Personal representatives can be individuals or institutions, such as banks, trust companies or other qualified corporations or associations.
The person appointed to this position must be 18 years of age or older and a Florida resident (subject to certain statutory exceptions) at the time the individual passes away. Individuals must also meet other qualifications set forth in the Florida Probate Code.
If the decedent left a valid will naming a personal representative, the probate judge will generally appoint the individual or institution named in the will to act as the personal representative. In the event that the decedent did not leave a will naming a personal representative, or if the person named is no longer able to serve, Florida law sets forth the preference for the appointment of the personal representative.
Under Florida law, a personal representative has a duty to settle and distribute the assets of the estate according to the terms of the decedent’s last will and testament. The decedent is required to take action “expeditiously and efficiently as is consistent with the best interests of the [decedent’s] estate.” The representative is given the authority and responsibility to complete a number of duties and tasks, including:
- Preparing and filing a petition for administration with the probate court to admit the decedent’s will for probate
- Serving a “Notice of Administration” on the surviving spouse of the decedent, the beneficiaries, the trustee of any trust as required under the law, and persons who may be entitled to exempt property
- Identifying, inventorying and valuing the decedent’s probate assets
- Safeguarding the assets of the estate
- Publishing a “Notice to Creditors” giving potential creditors notice of their right to file claims against the estate and conducting a diligent search to locate and give notice to known or reasonably ascertainable creditors of the estate
- Rejecting and, if necessary, defending invalid or improper claims on the estate and paying valid claims
- Keeping track and maintaining a record of all probate assets and any transactions related to the estate and the decedent’s assets
- Filing income tax returns and paying any taxes that may be due from the estate or the decedent
- Paying the expenses associated with administering the probate estate from the funds of the estate
- Distributing the probate assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries
- Closing the probate estate
It is important to remember that under Florida law, the personal representative serves in a “fiduciary” capacity. This means that personal representatives stand in a position of trust and loyalty. They have a legal duty to act in the best interests of all parties who have an interest in the estate. A personal rep can be exposed to legal liability by failing to meet the duties required under the law.
If you are a personal representative facing a breach of fiduciary duty claim, or if you are an interested party who believes that a personal representative is acting dishonestly or negligently in the performance of his or her duties, you should seek the advice of an experienced probate litigation attorney. SW Florida Probate Trial Lawyers handles complex litigation cases involving personal reps. We represent parties seeking to file a claim against a personal representative as well as individuals and institutions needing to defend against these legal claims.