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How To Be a Good Personal Representative of the Estate

April 19, 2024 Executors & Personal Representatives

Losing a loved one is undoubtedly a challenging experience, and the responsibilities that come with managing their estate can add additional stress during an already difficult time. In North Carolina, someone who is appointed as the personal representative of the estate (also known as the executor or administrator) plays a crucial role in the probate process. The personal representative must make sure that the assets of the person that passed away are properly managed and distributed according to their wishes and the law.

What is a Personal Representative?

In North Carolina, a personal representative is a person appointed by the court to administer the estate of a deceased person. There are two main types of personal representatives: executors, who are appointed when the deceased person has a valid will, and administrators, who are appointed when there is no valid will or when the nominated executor is unable or unwilling to serve. The appointment process typically involves filing an application with the appropriate court, providing notice to interested parties, and obtaining approval from the court.

Your Fiduciary Duties in North Carolina

As a personal representative, you are entrusted with fiduciary duties, which are legal obligations to act in the estate’s and its beneficiaries’ best interests. These duties are based on four principles: loyalty, care, impartiality, and accountability.

  1. Duty of Loyalty: Your primary responsibility is to always act in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries. This means that you need to prioritize their needs over your own interests and avoid any situations where your personal interests may conflict with those of the estate or its beneficiaries. For example, you should not use the estate’s assets for your personal gain, nor should you show any favoritism towards certain beneficiaries over others. In short, your job is to ensure that the estate is handled fairly and impartially for the benefit of all involved.
  2. Duty of Care: It is your responsibility to manage the assets of the estate with great care and attention. You should handle them in the same way you would manage your own finances, making sure they are safe from any harm or loss. This also means that you should make wise investment decisions and keep accurate records of all financial activities. By doing so, you can ensure that the estate’s assets are protected and will be distributed according to the wishes of the deceased.
  3. Duty of Impartiality: It is important that you treat all the beneficiaries of the estate equally and fairly, without any personal bias. This means making sure that each beneficiary gets what they are entitled to according to the law. You must avoid discrimination or favoritism. In short, your job is to distribute the assets of the estate fairly among all the beneficiaries.
  4. Duty to Account: As the personal representative of the estate, it is your responsibility to keep track of all the assets, income, and expenses. You need to be transparent and honest in your accounting, both to the court and to the beneficiaries. This means that you will need to create regular financial reports and be ready to answer any questions that arise. This will help everyone understand what is happening with the estate and that everything is being handled fairly.

Tasks of the Personal Representative

As a personal representative of the estate in North Carolina, you will be responsible for various tasks throughout the probate process. Some of the key tasks include:

  • Identifying and Inventorying Assets: As part of settling the estate, it’s important to identify and make a list of everything they own. This includes things like their homes or land, any money they had in savings or investments and their personal belongings. This can help ensure that everything is handled fairly and according to the law.
  • Notifying Creditors and Paying Debts: It is your responsibility to let the people or companies that the deceased person owed money know that they have passed away. You also need to make sure that any legitimate debts and expenses, like funeral costs, taxes, and outstanding bills, are paid using the assets of the person who has passed away.
  • Managing Estate Assets: You must manage and protect estate assets during the probate process, which may include making decisions regarding the sale or transfer of assets, maintaining insurance coverage, and preserving the estate’s value.
  • Communicating with Beneficiaries: You are required to keep everyone who stands to inherit updated on how things are going. This means sharing important paperwork, answering any questions they might have, and working to resolve any issues that come up along the way. It’s all about making sure everyone is on the same page and feels confident that everything is being taken care of properly.
  • Preparing and Filing Legal Documents: One of the most important things that needs to be done is filing certain legal documents with the court. These documents include things like the application to start the probate process, a list of all the assets that the deceased person had, yearly reports of all the financial transactions that take place during the probate process, and a final report that covers everything that happened during the process. It may sound complicated, but it’s an important part of making sure everything is taken care of after someone’s passing.
  • Distributing Assets to Beneficiaries: After paying off all the debts and expenses of the estate, your responsibility is to distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. You need to ensure that the distribution is done according to the instructions mentioned in the will. If their is no will available, the distribution must follow the legal rules of the state of North Carolina.

Potential Challenges and Pitfalls

Managing your responsibilities as a personal representative can be difficult, even if you’re doing your best. It can be especially tough if you’re not familiar with the process of probate or don’t have much experience. Some common challenges and problems you might face include:

  • Mismanagement of Assets: If the personal representative does not manage the assets properly due to unwise investments, the assets can lose value over time. In this situation, the personal representative would not be upholding the duty of care and could be held liable. Similarly, situations can arise if the assets are not protected from damage or loss. Therefore, it is crucial to manage assets effectively to ensure that they retain their value.
  • Communication Issues With Beneficiaries: This could happen when the personal representative doesn’t update beneficiaries on how things are going. Or, the personal representative does not respond quickly enough to their questions or worries. In this situation, the personal representative would not be upholding the duty to account and could be held liable.
  • Missing Deadlines: It’s really important to keep track of legal deadlines and requirements to avoid any legal trouble. For instance, if you forget to file important documents with the court or fail to give notice to creditors or beneficiaries as required by law, it can lead to serious consequences. It is always best to stay on top of these things to stay out of trouble.


As someone responsible for handling the affairs of a loved one who has passed away, your goal is to make sure their final wishes are respected. You can help make sure that everything is done fairly and transparently. This makes the process of administering the estate as smooth and stress-free as possible for everyone involved. It can help bring closure and peace of mind to all parties affected by the loss.

If you have any further questions about your fiduciary duties as a personal representative, or would like assistance in any area of the probate process, contact our law offices today or call us now at 336-790-5107.


Disclaimer: The information above is provided for general information only and should not be considered legal advice. Our attorneys provide legal advice to our clients after talking about the specific circumstances of the client’s situation. Our law firm cannot give you legal advice unless we understand your situation by talking with you. Please contact our law office to receive specific information about your situation.

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Jeffrey L. Bloomfield Founding Attorney
Jeff is a highly dedicated and accomplished lawyer with a wealth of experience in various areas of law, particularly focusing on tax, estate planning, and estate administration. His expertise and genuine passion for charitable planning make him a sought-after advisor for families looking to structure their initiatives using trusts.

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