A loved one has passed away and it is time to probate the estate. The court must appoint a personal representative to look after and administer the estate. If the individual has a Will, the Will will typically state who the personal representative is to be. This person is called an Executor or Executrix. But, if the individual does not have a Will then the court, guided by Oklahoma statutes, will appoint a personal representative. This person is called an Administrator or Administrix. Although the names are different, as personal representatives, the two share common roles.
It is important to note that personal representatives have a special duty to the individual’s estate. This duty means the personal representative must act with the estates interest in mind and should not let personal bias, prejudice, or personal interests interfere with the needs of the estate.
A personal representative must inventory the estate. To inventory the estate the personal representative must determine what assets belong to the estate. This would include finding all real and personal property of the estate. Under Oklahoma law this may include obtaining opinions as to the value of the estate. If a potential heir, beneficiary, or creditor challenges an inventory of the estate or its value, the personal representative may be expected to present a formal appraisement of the estate’s property.
In addition to taking inventory of the estate the personal representative must protect the property. The personal representative must take appropriate steps to make sure the property is not lost or destroyed until the estate distribution is finalized. This could mean putting the property in a secure storage facility or making sure real property does not deteriorate.
The personal representative must determine the creditors and debts the estate owes. It is required by law that all known creditors be promptly notified of the probate. The notice should be given in a manner sufficient to satisfy the probate judge, usually by mail and publication in a local newspaper. The creditors then have the opportunity to make a formal claim to the personal representative for any debt they are owed. The personal representative must follow the statutory rules of priority when paying off creditors from the estate.
The personal representative is also in charge of paying and filing the taxes on behalf of the individual’s estate. The personal representative will have to make sure a tax return is filed. The law concerning taxes and the associated tax returns changes fairly frequently. Depending on the amount the estate is worth, the personal representative may have to file state and/or federal estate tax returns. If the estate makes sufficient income on its own, the personal representative will have to make sure the taxes are paid on that income as well.
An accurate accounting of the funds received and the monies paid must also be kept. All receipts and distributions should be accounted for. Annually or upon finalizing the estate the personal representative will typically file an accounting with the court. Finalizing the estate requires the personal representative to present the final accounting to the court, verify all taxes and debts have been paid, and that the estate is ready for the final distribution. Once finalized the personal representative will be discharged by the judge.
The personal representative may be entitled to compensation for the services performed. The fees are determined by Oklahoma statutes and relate to the size of the estate. The personal representative may also be reimbursed for any out-of-pocket expenses.
A personal representative should hire an experienced Oklahoma attorney to assist them in accomplishing these duties. A seasoned attorney can help ensure that proper notice is given to creditors, help ensure the taxes are paid, and help with the proper distribution of the estate property.