Personal Representative vs. Executor: Key Differences

If you’ve been named as the personal representative or executor of someone’s estate after they pass away, you may be wondering what the difference is between these two roles. While they are often used interchangeably, there are some key distinctions in Florida law.

This article will explain the duties and legal responsibilities of a personal representative versus an executor to help you understand your critical role in administering the estate.

What is a Personal Representative?

A personal representative is a person or institution appointed to administer a deceased person’s estate in Florida. They have the legal authority and responsibility to manage the deceased person’s estate during probate and ensure the fair and lawful distribution of assets to beneficiaries.

The probate court oversees the personal representative’s handling of estate matters. The primary responsibilities include:

  • Finding and protecting the assets of the deceased person
  • Getting appraisals and valuing property
  • Paying bills and debts
  • Filing tax returns
  • Notifying Social Security and other agencies
  • Canceling credit cards and services
  • Distributing assets according to the will or state law

Essentially, the personal representative steps into the shoes of the deceased person and wraps up their personal and financial affairs. They have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries. The personal representative is typically entitled to reasonable compensation for their services.

If the deceased person left a will naming an executor, normally, the probate court will appoint that same person to serve as the personal representative.

What is an Executor?

An executor is someone named in a deceased person’s will to carry out its instructions. Their primary role is to ensure the person’s wishes expressed in their will are properly fulfilled. This involves collecting assets, paying debts, filing taxes, and distributing property to beneficiaries.

The executor is appointed by the probate court after the will goes through probate. They have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the estate. The key differences between an executor and a personal representative are:

  • An executor is named by the deceased in their will, while a personal representative is appointed by the probate court.
  • An executor’s authority comes from being nominated by the deceased, while a personal representative’s authority comes directly from the court.
  • An executor serves to carry out the wishes in the will, while a personal representative must follow state law if there is no will.
  • An executor is not supervised by the court unless a beneficiary makes an objection, while the personal representative is accountable directly to the court.

If a person dies without a will (intestate), the probate court will appoint an administrator to manage the estate. This administrator has the same responsibilities as a personal representative.

So, in summary, the main distinction is an executor is self-appointed by the deceased in the will to carry out its instructions, while a personal representative is court-appointed to administer the estate under the law.

Key Differences Between Personal Representatives and Executors

While executors and personal representatives broadly serve the same functions, there are some notable differences in Florida:

  • Origin of appointment: A personal representative may be appointed by the court (administrator) or named as executor in a will. An executor is exclusively named in a will.
  • When duties begin: An executor may start executing duties immediately after the testator’s death, while a court-appointed administrator cannot act until authorized by a judge after a hearing.
  • Estate with no will: If a person dies intestate (without a will), the probate court will appoint an administrator to settle the estate. There is no executor in an intestate estate.
  • Terminology: While Florida law uses the term “personal representative,” laypeople and professionals often use executor and administrator interchangeably. Legally, however, administrators cannot properly be called executors.
  • Number appointed: Multiple personal representatives may be appointed to oversee an estate. Typically, only one executor is named in a will, though co-executors may be designated.
  • Qualifications: Beyond being over 18 and of sound mind, a testator can name anyone as executor in a will regardless of their skills, while courts tend to appoint professional administrators.

Despite these distinctions, executors and court-appointed administrators share the core duty of administering the estate properly and in a timely manner according to the testator’s wishes and Florida law.

Duties of Personal Representatives and Executors in Florida

While specific duties may vary case-by-case, personal representatives and executors generally have the following core responsibilities:

  • Submit the will for probate (if one exists) and file for appointment with the court
  • Notify beneficiaries that they are named in the will or that the deceased died intestate
  • Inventory assets and determine current fair market values; track income/expenses
  • Pay valid claims against the estate while disputing improper ones
  • File tax returns on behalf of the estate and pay taxes owed
  • Maintain proper records and provide accounting to beneficiaries
  • Liquidate assets and invest conservatively to settle debts and distribute inheritance
  • Distribute net assets to heirs and handle property transfers

Proper estate administration often takes one to two years. Florida executors and personal representatives are entitled to reasonable compensation for their services.

Accepting the Role of Personal Representative or Executor in Florida

Being appointed as a Florida personal representative or executor is an honorable position, showing trust and confidence. However, the role of a personal representative comes with significant legal duties and potential liability.

Accepting the role also means understanding and consenting to your fiduciary duties. If disputes arise later, dissatisfied beneficiaries could hold you personally liable for any breaches of your legal obligations. Consider discussing your appointment with a Florida probate lawyer before formally accepting.

With proper legal guidance, the estate administration process can proceed smoothly. Connect with an experienced Coral Gables estate planning attorney at Stivers Law today to discuss your role as an executor or personal representative. Their attorneys are ready to assist executors, administrators, and beneficiaries through every aspect of probate in Miami-Dade County and across South Florida.