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Home > Blog > Estate Planning > What the Personal Representative of an Estate Can and Cannot Do

What the Personal Representative of an Estate Can and Cannot Do


New York law gives you a lot of control over what happens to your property after you die.  You can leave property to anyone you choose and disinherit any family member you wish to disinherit; the only person who can claim an inheritance regardless of what your will says is your surviving spouse.  Meanwhile, people have the right to challenge the validity of a deceased person’s will as long the deceased person’s estate is still open for probate.  Being the personal representative of a deceased person’s estate is a big job; at best, it is like filing a tax return for someone who is no longer around to answer questions about his or her finances.  At worst, it is a legal battle standing in for a personal rivalry, where you are caught in the middle.  For help setting up your estate plan so that your chosen personal representative has an easy time getting the estate to settle, contact a Bronx estate planning lawyer.

Following the Instructions in the Decedent’s Will

The personal representative has the right to make financial transactions on behalf of the estate, such as the following:

  • Paying debts to creditors
  • Paying taxes owed by the decedent when filing the decedent’s final tax returns
  • Selling assets belonging to the estate in order to satisfy the decedent’s debts or to divide the proceeds of the sale among several heirs

The personal representative cannot decide, however, who should inherit what.  Instead, he or she must follow the decedent’s wishes as indicated in the will.  If the decedent did not write a will, then the personal representative must give creditors a chance to file claims for the repayment of debts and then distribute the remaining property to the decedent’s closest surviving relatives, according to New York’s laws of intestate succession.  In this case, the court chooses the personal representative; it usually chooses the family member or friend of the decedent who presents the will to the probate court.

Personal Representatives and Probate Lawyers

If a decedent chooses you as personal representative, you cannot delegate the responsibility to someone else.  Therefore, when you write your will, you should first discuss matters with the person you want to appoint as personal representative and make sure that he or she is willing to take on the task.  If you do not have any family members who live in New York and are healthy enough to take on the duties of personal representative, you should appoint an estate planning lawyer instead.  It is a good idea for a personal representative to hire a lawyer to avoid preventable probate disputes and to settle the estate as quickly and as cost effectively as possible.  The lawyer who represents the personal representative during probate does not need to be the same one who helped the decedent write his or her will.

Schedule a Confidential Consultation With a Bronx Estate Planning Attorney

An estate planning lawyer can act as personal representative of your estate if none of your family members are willing to take on the role.  Contact Cavallo & Cavallo in the Bronx, New York to set up a consultation.



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