By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

I love my job! I get to spend my days helping individuals create estate plans that will both protect them while they are alive and provide a plan for distributing their money, property, and other assets to their family members and other loved ones after they pass away. I also get to work with family members after a loved one has passed away so they can complete the necessary probate process required by Idaho law. In other words, I get to use my expertise to help individuals who do not know what they need to do in order to move forward after they have lost a loved one.

In helping families complete the probate process, I am often asked this simple question: What does a Personal Representative do? The purpose of this article is to provide a short answer to this often asked question. However, first I want to explain how a personal representative is chosen.

When an individual creates a written last will and testament, they have the ability to appoint whoever they want to be their personal representative. We often suggest that a person choose family members for this appointment. However, any person could be appointed. When there is no written last will and testament, the personal representative will be chosen by the intestate statutes that apply. Again, usually this starts with the closest family members first. Now that we have established how a personal representative is chosen, we can discuss what it is a personal representative actually does.

Protect Estate Property

The first thing a personal representative is required to do is to identify and protect all the property in the estate. This would include the money, property, assets, intellectual property, digital assets, and any other items of worth that were owned by the individual who passed away. The personal representative is able to do this because they are given specific written authority by the court to take over and control all of these types and kinds of assets. The documents the court produces to the personal representative are used by the personal representative to provide proof of the fact that they have legal authority and are entitled to do this. This written authority allows a personal representative to take control of all of these types of assets.

Pay Creditors

The next thing of personal representative is required to do is to deal with the creditors of the person who passed away. In other words, the personal representative is required to determine who has legitimate claims against the estate for debts that were owed by the decedent. The personal representative then must make payments to these creditors to satisfy these debts.

If a claim comes in that is not legitimate, or that is in question, the personal representative has a duty to disallow or challenge that claim. If that creditor persists that they are entitled to be paid, the personal representative will go into court with that creditor to present evidence about the debt. The court then determines whether or not that debt must be paid.

Distribute Estate Assets to Beneficiaries

After the personal representative has paid all legitimate claims or debts that were owed by the person who passed away they are ready to move forward with the next responsibility they are given which is to distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.

Beneficiaries are identified most easily through a written last will and testament. However, not everyone has a written will. If there is no written will bend the laws of intestacy will determine who the beneficiaries are and what portion of the estate they are to receive.

Once the beneficiaries are identified, the personal representative is required to provide an accounting to these beneficiaries. This accounting simply identifies the total value of the estate on the day the decedent died, then it subtracts all the debts and expenses that have been paid, which leaves a balance left in the estate. The accounting then identifies how much of the estate will be distributed to each of the listed beneficiaries.

The final duty of the personal representative is simply to distribute the estate assets to the beneficiaries in the way required by either the written will, or the laws of intestacy. After the distribution occurs, the personal representative makes a final report to the court, and files a petition to close the probate.

As you can see, there are a number of things the personal representative is required to accomplish. We have helped numerous clients act as personal representatives in carrying out these duties. If you have any questions or concerns about your appointment as a personal representative, 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 consultation with Lane Erickson and the Racine Olson team of Estate Planning attorneys in Idaho. You can also email Lane Erickson directly at lane@racineolson.com. We will answer your questions and will help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.


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