Definition: Personal Representative

A personal representative is a fiduciary who can be appointed in a will or otherwise selected by a court. A personal representative is responsible after a person’s death for initiating and overseeing the probate or intestacy proceedings for the estate of the decedent , including gathering the decedent’s assets, sending notices to the decedent’s creditors, paying or otherwise settling the decedent’s debts that are properly claimed, and distributing the decedent’s probate assets to beneficiaries.

A personal representative is in charge of handling the legal and financial affairs of the decedent’s estate, which means he or she may have to manage any income the estate is still generating, sell the estate’s real estate and vehicles, track down the decedent’s distant family members, and similar activities. A personal representative will also make decisions for the estate in connection with any will contests. These duties will occupy a personal representative for several months, possibly even a year or more. A personal representative may need or want to hire an attorney, an accountant, and other professionals to assist with these duties, which he or she may do at the expense of the estate.

A personal representative owes his or her duties to the estate and the decedent’s beneficiaries. He or she may also owe duties to others, such as the estate’s creditors.

In the State of Washington, any person is eligible to be a personal representative unless that person is a minor, a person of unsound mind, or a person who has been convicted of a felony or crime involving moral turpitude, such as fraud or theft.1 If a person who does not reside in Washington becomes a personal representative, he or she will be required to file a bond approved by the probate court and appoint an agent who resides in the county where the probate is taking place who can receive service of legal paperwork on the nonresident personal representative’s behalf.

A personal representative, when appointed in a will, is also sometimes called an executor or executrix. The term “executor” can refer to a person of any gender, whereas the term “executrix” refers specifically to a female personal representative. A personal representative who is not named in a will, or who is appointed in intestacy proceedings, is also called an administrator.

Frequently Asked Questions about Personal Representatives

Can my personal representative be the same person I have chosen to be a beneficiary under my will or a beneficiary of one of my nonprobate assets?
The fact that you have named a person as your personal representative does not prevent you from giving that person a gift in your will or naming the person as a beneficiary of a nonprobate asset. It is common, for example, for spouses who make mirror wills to leave each other substantial gifts of property and to designate each other to be personal representative.
What happens if the surviving spouse or partner is not named in the will as the personal representative? To what extent can he or she be involved in the administration of the estate?
Regardless of who is named as personal representative in the will (or who gets appointed), the surviving spouse or partner has the right to petition the court to be appointed to administer the community property of the estate.2 The surviving spouse or partner must do this within forty days of the date of death of the decedent or this right is waived. He or she must also be qualified to serve in this role (the requirements are listed above).

There is also the possibility that the person named in the will to serve as personal representative will decline the role. If that is the case, the surviving spouse or partner (or someone else) can petition the court to get appointed.