Personal representatives owe beneficiaries a fiduciary duty

On Behalf of | Dec 9, 2022 | Firm News

A personal representative administers the estate during the probate process. This is the period between the death of the testator and the heirs taking over ownership of their inheritance (closing the estate) as laid out in the will.

While it is a court-controlled process, the courts mostly play oversight. A judge will not be involved in the day-to-day dealings of the estate. That responsibility lies with the personal representative, who has a legal obligation to always act in the best interests of the estate and the beneficiary.

What does fiduciary duty mean?

A fiduciary holds a legal or ethical relationship of trust with others. Since the personal representative handles all transactions and administers the estate, they are the fiduciary of the estate beneficiaries and should not abuse their position.

The personal representative must take care of the estate assets and make decisions that further the beneficiaries’ interests. They should also be committed to discharging their duties to the best of their ability.

For instance, a personal representative cannot sell an asset way below its market value or divert estate funds for personal use. If they do, it is a breach of the fiduciary duty owed to beneficiaries, and it can open them up to criminal and civil action.

Protecting your interests during the probate process

Things can happen during probate, and you may lose some or all of your inheritance if you are not careful. The personal representative could steal from the estate, make bad investment decisions or allow assets to decay. You will likely be negatively affected when this happens.

Therefore, it is best to learn more about what happens during the probate process and what you can do to hold the personal representative accountable. Sometimes, the earlier you notice something is wrong and take corrective action, the better.