Estate Planning: Choosing Your Personal Representative

In thinking about those who are to receive our possessions after we pass from this earth, many of us weigh and balance this decision carefully. For example, it is not uncommon during the estate planning process for people to create extensive lists of their tangible personal property – including jewelry, tools, art, furniture, and other important items – and designate specific items to many different individuals. It is also not uncommon to name various individuals or charities to receive sums of money specified in a will.

While deciding how to distribute our property is a key decision in preparing a will, it is equally important to think through the choice of a personal representative. A personal representative, who may also be called an executor, is the individual who is responsible for paying the final bills and taxes of the decedent, distributing the property of the decedent in accordance with his or her wishes, and generally interfacing with appropriate governmental agencies to ensure that all the business affairs of the decedent are conducted appropriately.

It is important to remember that a personal representative is a type of fiduciary. When acting as a fiduciary a special relationship is established. One party places trust, confidence, and reliance in another. A fiduciary has a duty to act for the benefit of the party who nominated or appointed him or her. In the context of estate planning, at its most basic, a personal representative must be able to account for every dollar that flows into the estate and every dollar that flows out of the estate. The goal of the personal representative is to distribute property as articulated in the will or, if there is no will, according to the laws of intestacy.

Depending on the size and complexity of an estate, the tasks of the personal representative can be either straight-forward or quite complicated. Generally, however, the job is a tedious one, and appropriately, the personal representative is compensated for this work in accordance with a schedule set forth in the law.

Because we love them, many of us think that our child or children would be a good choice to serve as our personal representative. This may be true, but before so naming a child or children in the will, careful consideration should be given in evaluating his or her ability to perform the tasks of the personal representative, along with the ability to work with others who will receive property under the terms of the will. It may be helpful to think through these issues while consulting with an attorney. For additional information about preparing a will, you may wish to check out my website: The information available to the public through the Register of Wills at is also a useful resource to check out.

The Law offices of Cynthia Lifson are located in Columbia, Annapolis, and Towson, Maryland.