When an estate enters probate, the court will appoint a personal representative to manage the assets. If the representative is an individual, that person must either be a Florida resident or a close relative of the decedent. A qualified and authorized bank or savings and loan company and any incorporated Florida trust company could also serve as the representative.
When selecting the representative for the estate, the court first looks at the decedent’s wishes. If the decedent had named a personal representative in the will and that person qualifies under the law, the court will appoint that person. If the court has to select the representative, it will appoint the spouse. If the person is unmarried or the spouse refuses to take the responsibilities, the court will allow the heirs to select one. If all of this fails, the judge will hold a hearing to select a representative.
The job of the personal representative is to manage the entire estate. This includes locating all of the decedent’s assets and debts and providing all creditors with a time frame to file their claims. The administrator will then pay all valid claims, taxes and other expenses before distributing the assets to the family and beneficiaries. It can be a good idea for the personal representative to retain an attorney during this process to handle any legal issues that arise, but the will cannot force a specific attorney on the representative.
Any person going through the estate administration process should consider hiring an attorney to assist with any legal issues that arise. This could help protect the estate from invalid claims or other legal issues that may be unfamiliar to the representative.
Source: The Florida Bar, “Probate in Florida Pamphlet”, October 28, 2014