When an individual passes away, either the decedent’s will or the court appoints a personal representative – also referred to in other states as an executor – to manage the decedent’s estate. Often, the personal representative is the decedent’s spouse, adult child, or a close family member. A judge can also appoint a third party, bank, or trust company if the beneficiaries agree or if it would be in the best interest of all parties.
But what happens when the personal representative stops communicating with beneficiaries? We’ll go over the duties of this role, and what to do if you’re a beneficiary facing radio silence.
Personal Representative: Role and Responsibilities
When an individual chooses a personal representative, they’re trusting them to distribute their assets in an honorable way to their loved ones and safeguard their privacy and finances by responsibly closing their accounts. Ideally, a personal representative should be a source of stability and empathy throughout the probate process.
Here are just a few of the personal representative’s responsibilities:
- File the will within 10 days of the decedent’s death
- Hire an attorney to assist with the estate administration
- Create an inventory of the estate assets and their valuation
- File the decedent’s taxes and pay any taxes due
- Manage and negotiate creditor claims
- Distribute assets to beneficiaries
The personal representative also has the fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the estate and beneficiaries. While they’re not legally required to inform beneficiaries of every step along the way, they are expected to keep beneficiaries reasonably informed and provide timely responses to inquiries. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always occur.
How To Approach Silence From the Personal Representative
It can be very distressing when a personal representative seems to disappear, as you may start to suspect something is amiss. Firstly, don’t panic. The time surrounding a death can be emotionally crippling, with funeral planning only exacerbating the pain. Some personal representatives may feel they’re not yet ready to start sorting through the estate.
In other cases, the personal representative may not fully understand the full scope of their responsibilities. If you’re a beneficiary and the personal representative is unresponsive, try to politely reach out and arrange a time to discuss your loved one’s estate. However, we recommend keeping these conversations in writing – just in case you need to one day show them in court.
What To Do if You Suspect Misconduct
If, however, you start to sense red flags, you should consult with a probate attorney immediately. Warning signs of misconduct may include the personal representative failing to file the will, withholding information on the estate, or responding with hostility after refusing communication.
After trying to resolve the matter one-on-one with no success, a formal legal notice may be sent to the personal representative requesting the will be filed or the necessary information be provided. Typically, this is effective in setting the probate process in motion. But if they continue to ignore you, it may be time to petition for their removal as personal representative.
The removal of a personal representative is not a step the courts take lightly, but they will take action for specific reasons. Section 733.504 of the Florida statutes outlines the court’s causes for removal, which include:
- Failure to comply with a court order
- Maladministration of the estate
- Conviction of a felony
- Holding conflicting interests against the estate
Silence from a personal representative can be extremely unsettling, but we’re here to help.
Call us for a free consultation.