A personal representative is a fiduciary who represents the estate of a decedent. The personal representative is also referred to as the executor if the person was nominated in the decedent’s will and an administrator if they were not nominated in the decedent’s will. The personal representative is appointed by the District Court (probate court) to settle the decedent’s estate, manage the estate’s assets, pay estate debts, and ultimately distribute its assets to the appropriate beneficiaries and heirs. As a fiduciary, the personal representative has a duty to perform these activities with honesty, loyalty, and care, putting the interests of the estate over their own self-interest.
Personal Representative Appointment
Even if nominated in the decedent’s will, the personal representative has no authority to act on behalf of the estate until the District Court has officially appointed them. Upon appointment, the court will issue the personal representative a document called “letters”– “Letters Testamentary” (for an executor) or “Letters Administration” (for an administrator). The District Court oversees the estate administration process, and in many instances the personal representative must seek permission from the court before acting.
Duties and Responsibilities of Personal Representative
The following are the main duties and responsibilities of the personal representative:
Notice to creditors. One of the main duties of the personal representative is to pay debts owed by the decedent prior to their death. To let creditors know that the decedent’s estate has been opened, the deadline for filing claims, and the manner of filing claims, the personal representative is required to publish a notice in a newspaper of general circulation once a week for 3 consecutive weeks. In addition, for known creditors, the personal representative may mail or deliver notices. The deadline for presenting claims is 4 months from the published notice or within 30 days from the mailing or delivery of the notice, whichever is later. Mont. Code Ann. § 72-3-801
Inventory estate assets. One of the first responsibilities of the personal representative is to figure out what assets are part of the estate. Assets might include real estate as well as personal property. The personal representative must make a list of the assets and their value. This inventory must be made available to beneficiaries and heirs.
Pay debts. While the personal representative is required to pay the debt that the decedent left behind, there is a process that creditors must follow in order to get paid. Only claims that have been filed by creditors that are valid and that have been filed within the claims period are eligible to get paid. Next, the personal representative must determine if there are enough assets in the estate to pay all of the debt as well as expenses. If there is not, then the personal representative must follow the law which provides the order in which debts and expenses must be paid. Mont. Code Ann. § 72-3-807
Distribute assets. In addition to the payment of debts, asset distribution is a main goal of the administration process. It is the job of the personal representative to ensure that assets are distributed to the people who are legally entitled to them based on the directions in the will or Montana law. Before the personal representative can distribute assets, they must get permission from the court.
Close the estate. Once the personal representative has performed all their duties and responsibilities, they can submit a request to the District Court to close the estate. To do this the personal representative must file a verified statement stating that the timeframe for creditors’ claims has expired and that all expenses, debts, and taxes have been paid or otherwise resolved, and that the assets of the estate have been distributed to the appropriate people. The personal representative must send the statement to all beneficiaries, heirs, creditors, and other claimants. The personal representative must also have sent a full account of the administration to beneficiaries and heirs. Mont. Code Ann. § 72-3-807
Compensation of Personal Representative
In Montana a personal representative is entitled to reasonable compensation for their services. The amount of the compensation is based on the value of the estate. They may receive compensation of up to 3% of the first $40,000 of the value of the estate and up to 2% of the value of the estate in excess of $40,000. The minimum amount that the personal representative is entitled to a receive is the lesser of $100 or the value of the gross estate. Mont. Code Ann. § 72-3-631