I’ve been named a Personal Representative: what do I do?

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I’ve been named a Personal Representative: what do I do?

A Personal Representative (a.k.a. Executor or Administrator) is a person or Corporation named in a Will to manage and administer the deceased’s estate in accordance with the terms of the Will.  A Personal Representative (PR) must act in the best interests of the estate and the beneficiaries.

Acting as a PR is a big job and it can be complicated, time-consuming and emotional. If you are appointed a PR, try to take it as a compliment. The deceased obviously thought of you as a trustworthy and capable individual.

Although the Will names you as the PR, it is not mandatory you act. You have the option of renouncing your role as PR. However, once you start acting as PR and carrying out PR duties, it becomes much more difficult to stop. You may have to apply for a Court order to release you of your responsibilities and liabilities as PR. It is important you understand the PR’s obligations and liabilities before accepting the role. Before deciding whether or not to act, it may be helpful to speak with a lawyer to decide how to proceed.

A PR’s core duties are outlined in section 7(1) Alberta’s Estate Administration Act. Here are some common PR responsibilities:

  1. Identifying the deceased’s assets, such as real property (house, condo, farmland), bank accounts, investments, vehicles, etc. The PR will need to determine the value of each asset.
  2. Identifying the deceased’s debts, such as mortgages, loans, credit cards, etc. Estate debts also include funeral expenses. The PR will need to determine the amount owing under each debt instrument to ensure all debts are paid in full.
  3. Applying for a Grant of Probate. This is an application to the Court to confirm the validity of the Will. A Grant of Probate is what gives the PR the legal authority to deal with the assets.
  4. Identifying and locating the beneficiaries named in the Will. The PR needs to contact the beneficiaries and inform them of the gift they are to receive under the Will. Depending on family dynamics and the ease by which people move nowadays, locating beneficiaries can sometimes be challenging.
  5. Distributing the assets among the beneficiaries in accordance with the Will.
  6. Filing the appropriate tax returns. Normally, there is a personal tax return and an estate tax return that will need to be filed.
  7. Accounting to the beneficiaries. You need to show what exactly has been done in the estate administration process, including all monies that have been received and disbursed.

The Personal Representative is entitled to charge the estate a reasonable fee for the time and energy he/she spent carrying out the PR duties. In some cases, the Will may specify the amount the PR is entitled to receive. More commonly, the Will is silent on PR fees and the PR must determine what is reasonable. The amount of the fee will depend on a few factors:

  • The amount of time spent carrying out the PR duties;
  • The size of the estate and the complexity of the estate assets;
  • The number of beneficiaries and location of the beneficiaries. Dealing with beneficiaries who live outside of Canada is often more work than those who are Canadian residents.

Alberta lawmakers have set a guideline to help PRs determine what a reasonable fee might be. The guideline looks at the total value of the estate:

Value of the Estate            Suggested Percentage

On the first $250,000                        3% to 5%

On the next $250,000                        2% to 4%

On the balance                                  0.5% to 3%

PRs have significant responsibility and potential liability when carrying out the estate administration process. It is important to seek legal advice before you decide if and how to act. We can help you navigate the estate administration process and carry out the PR duties in an efficient, responsible and cost-effective manner.

Hilary Pritchard
Hilary Pritchard helps you navigate the turning points of life. She is a Student-at-Law with Pritchard & Co. Law Firm, LLP. Contact Hilary at (403) 527-4411 or at hpritchard@pritchardandco.com