Personal Representative is the gender neutral substitute for executor and executrix. The terms identify the individual or entity with responsibility for managing and distributing a decedent’s estate. The only proper term to be used in Arizona is Personal Representative, as Arizona adopted the Uniform Probate Code in 1972, and it uses the gender neutral term. If you have a will that refers to an executor or executrix, the terminology will not affect the process, but if your will uses one of the old terms, it may be time to give the will a look-see, and make sure it’s up-to-date.
So what does a PR do? First, if the decedent dies with a will, the PR will likely be the person who petitions the court to probate the will. This process involves a fair amount of paperwork, and works best when an attorney helps with the process.
People do die without wills, intestate, and sometimes the person named in the will as the PR cannot serve as he or she may be dead, ill, or unavailable. In these cases someone else may ask the court to appoint a PR.
The court appoints the PR and issues letters, a piece of paper issued by the clerk—the term letters is a relic—that gives the PR authority to act. Once letters issue, the PR goes to work.
In Arizona an inventory must be completed within 90 days of the issuance of letters. The inventory may be filed with the court, or mailed to devisees and heirs. Mailing is preferred, for privacy reasons.
Along with preparing an inventory, and often as a necessary element of getting that task completed properly, the PR gathers, or marshals, assets. This process involves finding financial accounts and taking control of them. Locating and collecting personal property. In cases involving an operating business, the PR may deal with management and financial issues. Etc.
While the PR is marshaling assets and preparing the inventory, he or she will also have published a notice to creditors and given actual notice to known creditors. Four months after the publication occurs, any creditor that has not given notice of its claim loses the right to pursue the claim. So, if you’re a PR, make sure your attorney gets the notice published, and if someone owes you money, notify the PR that you have a claim, and be prompt about it.
Once assets are marshaled and claims are resolved, the PR distributes assets and closes the case. This process may take as little as five-six months but, at the other end of the spectrum, I have seen estates that were open 10 or more years after the death of the decedent.
Note: This overview is an overview! I can write several thousand words on the claim process alone, and recently wrote several hundred—in a memorandum in a case—about the extent by which a claimant can participate in a case. Future posts will delve into aspects of probate in more detail. In the meantime, please treat this piece as a 36,000 foot review.