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What Does a Personal Representative Do?

By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

The first conversation is usually a panicked one. It’s either a phone call or the person has scheduled an appointment to meet with me in person. The first sentence is almost always the same. “Mr. Erickson, I’ve been named in the Will as a personal representative for my father/mother/sister/brother or spouse’s estate, and I have no idea what I need to do. Can you help me?” When this happens, I am always happy to help.

The first thing I do is sit down with this client and show them the probate diagram that I use with all clients during the first consultation. As I talk about the steps and process of a probate, I usually start by describing the main reasons that a personal representative is appointed. There are really only four.

  1. Begin the Probate

The first reason that a personal representative is appointed is to begin and go forward with a probate of the estate of the person who passed away. In Idaho, there are two specific times when a probate is required. A probate must be done anytime a person passed away who has an ownership interest in any type of real estate. This could be a home, or farm ground, or a vacation property, or even just bare ground. Regardless of what type of real estate it is, if the deceased person’s name is on the deed or title to that real estate, then a probate is required to transfer the ownership interest of that individual to someone who is still alive.

A probate is also required in Idaho anytime the person who died owned an estate worth $100,000 or more regardless of whether it had real estate in it or not. If neither of these two criteria apply (real estate or an estate of $100k or more) then a probate really does not need to be completed and we don’t really need a personal representative. There are other options that can be used under Idaho law. These are discussed and can be found in other blogs and articles that are on this website.

  1. Protect the Estate

The second reason that a personal representative is appointed is to protect the estate. This simply means that the personal representative takes control of and watches over all the money, property, and other assets that were owned by the person who died. This provides some assurance that money and property won’t simply disappear.

  1. Resolve the Decedent’s Debts

The third reason that a personal representative is appointed is to resolve the decedent’s debts. Most of us have creditors. This could be the mortgage on our house, or it could be credit cards. Additionally, we all pay utility bills such as water, electricity, gas, internet, and other similar items. All of these create debts that are owed by the decedent’s estate even after they pass away.

The job of the personal representative is to find out who these creditors are, contact these creditors, deal with the debt that is owed by the decedent, and then resolve that debt.

  1. Distribute the Decedent’s Property

The final reason that a personal representative is appointed is to make sure that the distributions that are supposed to happen do happen. If the decedent had a written last will and testament, they will have identified who they want their estate property to go to. Alternatively, if there is no written will then the laws of intestacy will describe who the decedent’s estate needs to be distributed to.

Once the personal representative knows who is supposed to receive the distributions, they identify these individuals as the beneficiaries of the estate. They notify these individuals and once all debts and obligations are paid from the estate, the personal representative then distributes the property of the estate to the beneficiaries it is supposed to go to.

So, if you’ve been named as a personal representative for someone who has recently passed away, don’t panic. We have helped numerous personal representatives through the process of probate, and we are confident that we can help you too!


If you have any questions about your estate or how to simplify your plans for your family and loved ones, we can help.  Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a free consultation with Lane Erickson and the Racine Olson team of Estate Planning attorneys in Pocatello. You can also email Lane Erickson directly at We will answer your questions and will help you solve your Pocatello Estate Planning problems. I have helped numerous clients create their own customized estate plans and I’m confident that I can help you too.

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