When you prepare a will in New Jersey, you’ll choose a personal representative to handle administration of your estate. You will typically also choose a successor, in case the personal representative you chose is unable or unwilling to fulfill the role. Of course, if the personal representative you selected predeceases you, moves out of the country, or another significant change takes place during your lifetime, you can and should update your will. However, you will also want to be prepared for unanticipated change.
Choosing the right personal representative is important for the welfare of your heirs and beneficiaries. A careless or dishonest personal representative may deplete estate assets, meaning that your loved ones receive less from the estate than you intended.
Most people choose the person closest to them as personal representative: a spouse, an adult child, or a best friend. However, that isn’t always the best approach, for the estate or for the person chosen. While trust is an important factor in choosing a personal representative, it’s far from the only consideration.
Responsibilities of the Personal Representative
The personal representative takes on a wide range of responsibilities. Some of the most fundamental include inventorying the estate, identifying and paying creditors, filing estate taxes, gathering and safeguarding property for the benefit of beneficiaries, distributing assets directly or selling assets and distributing proceeds, and filing the necessary paperwork and accounting with the probate court.
Thus, it’s important that the personal representative have qualities that extend a bit beyond being close to the testator.
Considerations in Choosing a Personal Representative
When choosing a personal representative, some of the qualifications you may want to consider include:
- Integrity: The personal representative will have primary responsibility for ensuring that your assets are distributed as you intended. He or she will have access to your bank accounts and other assets, and be the person preparing an inventory of your estate.
- Willingness and Availability: Acting as personal representative can be time-consuming, depending on the size and complexity of the estate and the nature of the assets. It’s important to discuss the role with the person you choose and ensure that they understand the responsibilities and are willing and able to take them on. This includes considerations such as geography, other responsibilities the administrator would have to balance, physical health, and ability to manage stress.
- Comfort Level with the Duties: While the personal representative can and should have the assistance of an experienced estate lawyer, it is important that he or she feel confident and competent in handling estate matters. You will also want to choose someone who is reliable and disciplined enough to do the detail work, keep the estate moving along on schedule, and attend to all technical requirements.
In addition to the above considerations and any special considerations that may apply in your specific situation, you will want to consider the impact of appointing one relative or another on family relationships. While you won’t necessarily want to pass over the most qualified person based on potential conflicts in the family, you also can’t afford to ignore the fact that emotions run high after the death of a loved one.
You’ve created a will to ensure that those closest to you are provided for. The last thing you want to do is create further tensions and trigger conflict during what is already a stressful time. The significance of this consideration will depend on the family, and on the matters to be managed by the personal representative.
Get Input on Choosing a Personal Representative
Although the choice of personal representative is yours alone, you don’t have to make the decision entirely on your own. An experienced wills and probate attorney can advise you on the factors to consider in selecting a personal representative, and honest conversations with those you are considering will help you make an informed decision.