The personal representative, sometimes referred to as executor, is the person appointed by the court to be in charge of the administration of a deceased person’s probate estate. This is a tremendous responsibility but can be a source of conflict if not handled properly. Under Florida law, individuals may nominate their eventual personal representative by way of a valid last will and testament. That nomination is not, however, without restriction.
To serve as a personal representative, one must either be a Florida resident, or a spouse, sibling, parent, child or other close relative. By way of example, your child will generally be able to serve regardless of their residence. On the other hand, your best friend can serve if they live in Florida, but they will be disqualified if they move to Georgia. For this reason, it is important to frequently review your last will and testament to ensure your nominated personal representative remains qualified. Other automatic disqualifiers, regardless of relationship, include if the person is under the age of 18 years, mentally or physically unable to perform the duties, or has been convicted of a felony.
Just because someone is qualified to serve doesn’t mean they are the best choice. Too often I see a family member nominated who lacks sound judgment, cannot be trusted with money, or is generally unable to follow direction from an attorney. This type of person is often nominated to prevent hurt feelings, or hard conversations. Other times the individual might be qualified but their selection comes with emotional baggage due to long-standing rivalries within a family. In these instances, fights between family members are frequent in an effort to control the position of power.
For these reasons, it is important to meet with a qualified estate planning attorney to discuss who should be nominated as your personal representative, including a detailed discussion of the tasks that will be asked of them during the probate process. The choice of personal representative is yours – be sure to make it count.