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Personal representatives owe the estate a fiduciary duty

We have spoken before about personal representatives, also known as executors, and their role in the probate process in Florida. Serving as a personal representative for a person’s estate after he or she dies is an important job, and not one to take lightly. The personal representative is responsible for distributing the assets to the proper heirs and dealing with creditor claims.

Because an executor has access to the estate’s funds, the law gives him or her an obligation toward the estate and the heirs. This is called the fiduciary duty. The things the personal representative must do to meet his or her fiduciary duty toward the estate include the following:

  • Protect the assets of the estate
  • Keep financial accounting accurate and up to date
  • Be impartial toward the beneficiaries
  • Avoid conflicts of interest
  • Be loyal to wards, if any
  • Avoid embezzling funds
  • Performa all duties in a timely and proper fashion

The testator must trust that the personal representative will live up to his or her fiduciary duty, because the testator will not be around to keep an eye on things. Instead, if the personal representative breaches the fiduciary duty, it may be up to the beneficiaries to pursue litigation.

Breaching the fiduciary duty, whether due to carelessness, negligence or active theft, can ruin the decedent’s plans. A missed deadline or failure to pay off creditors can throw the intentions of the will out of whack. An attorney can help wronged loved ones set things straight.

For those selecting a personal representative for their estate, it is a good idea to select someone with the ability to handle the estate honestly and competently.

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