I have always offered clients the service of placing their will in the courthouse vault of the county where they reside. The cost to keep your will in the courthouse vault is $10.00 forever and ever. If of course you have a new will, it will be another $10.00 to put the new one in and we pull out the old one and shred it. So many attorneys don't know that this option exists or don't tell their clients. Two weeks ago I was at a Milwaukee County probate meeting and the question of lost wills came up. I replied, "What lost wills? My clients have theirs in the vault." All the commissioners and probate court personal were busy nodding and smiling. Of course the next week I took on a probate case where we couldn't find the original will. The deceased client did have a copy. His attorney says he doesn't have the original. So we had start a special administration in probate court to hire a locksmith to get into his bank box. Of course there was no will there. So now we are starting a formal probate to prove up the copy of the will. The expenses for this are adding up quickly. Probably an extra $1,500. Make sure your wills are safe and accessible to your loved one. Not only will it save time and aggravation it will save money.
Today, a client told me that he was honored that his parents selected him out of the four children to act as the Personal Representative of their estates, but now after acting as such for the past couple of months he wasn’t so sure it was an honor. It has been a daunting task for him. This isn’t the first time I have heard this complaint from a client and I am sure it won’t be the last.
But let me digress a moment and define what I am referring to before I explain further. The term personal representative is another word for an executor (male) or executrix (female). Back when I was in law school the title was changed to ‘personal representative’ to make the language gender neutral.
Now the job of the personal representative in an estate varies depending on the situation. But in general he or she is responsible for marshaling all of the assets, paying the bills, providing an accounting of such, selling such assets (if they need to be converted to cash), cancelling all the household and personal accounts and then distributing everything according to the Will.
Cancelling household and personal accounts can be time consuming. Just think about the last time you had to call the cable company to cancel or modify your subscription. You might have been in voice mail hell for hours. Marshaling all the assets may take time and detective work if records are not kept current or are disorganized. Besides that issue, each stock transfer company or brokerage house has their own rules and requirements for liquidation and of course a ton of paper work. Before selling a house owned in an estate the house may have to have repairs made and thus, there is the calling and arranging for contractors and workers. The personal representative may also need to be on site to see that the job is done according to plan. There are also certificates of compliance to obtain and the scheduling of inspections from the village/town/city where the house is located.
Consequently, in selecting a personal representative, you want someone who is organized, patient and has the time available. Knowledge of financial matters and the basic ability to keep records and balance check books would help too.
So who do you select? Generally one of the kids who is in town. But maybe that is not always best. Are there alternatives? Your attorney can act as the personal representative. Do I act as such? Yes, on occasion. I really do decline most requests unless it is a situation where there really is no one else. Ethically we are not to place ourselves in the position so that a client feels we are the client’s only choice. However, I am thinking more and more, that since I do have the skill set necessary, perhaps I should be more open to acting as such when clients do ask me. Obviously the choice is ultimately yours, but if nothing else in the planning stage I would encourage discussing the future responsibilities with your intended selection before just naming them as such in your document.
Note: In Wisconsin the personal representative is entitled to compensation for acting as such. As a general rule they are entitled to 2% of the estate. If your attorney is acting as the personal representative they may receive the percentage or they may bill based on their customary hourly basis, but not both.
I hope that this is of help to you and again feel free to comment or ask questions.
I love a website with a blog. Now I have a platform to write about all the fun things I get to do as an attorney. So look for more posts and feel free to ask me to write about various topics that are of interest to you.