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Powers and Duties of a Personal Representative in Florida

Powers and Duties of a Personal Representative in Florida

In this article, we’ll break down:


A Florida personal representative (PR) is responsible for managing, collecting and distributing assets of an estate according to the decedent’s stated wishes, Florida probate law and the probate rules of court procedure.

Additionally, the personal representative must pay any valid claims against the estate, as well as perform other administrative tasks, like paying estate expenses, taxes and hiring licensed professionals (accountants, appraisers, etc.).

Depending on the issues that arise during the probate administration, these tasks can be complex often leading to conflicts among heirs, beneficiaries, creditors, probate lawyers and other interested parties (which Florida statute 731.201(23) defines as “any person who may reasonably be expected to be affected by the outcome of the particular proceeding involved.”)

Definition and Role of a Personal Representative in Florida

A personal representative is a court appointed person(s) authorized and responsible for managing and administrating a probate estate. They have the same fiduciary duty as a trustee, and they are liable to interested parties for any damage or loss due to a breach of their duties.

The Personal representative’s duty extends not just to beneficiaries but creditors too. Meaning, they must take action based on the best interest of the estate which includes these parties.

They are shielded from personal liability for acting in their court appointed capacity as long as the PR acts in accordance with Florida law and the rules of court procedure. Additionally, PR’s have broad statutory authority to act without specific court order unless the probate court orders otherwise.

The statutory powers and duties of a personal representative can be found at Florida Statutes 733.601-733.620.

Last Will and Testament

Importance of Understanding the Enumerated Powers and Duties of a PR

When someone is appointed as a personal representative or they are a beneficiary, heir or other interested party in a probate estate, then they should be aware of the powers and duties associated with the PR’s role. That’s because a PR is obligated to take steps to protect the estate and other interested parties. Failing to do so can create personal liability for the PR.

However, not everyone nominated to act is eligible to be a PR as there are specific criteria that must be met before someone can be appointed to this role.

Appointment of a Personal Representative

There are a few issues to be aware of when it comes to appointing a personal representative, including:.

Criteria and Eligibility

To qualify as a personal representative in Florida, one must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be a resident of Florida or have blood, marriage, or adoptive relationship with the decedent
  • Be physically and mentally capable of fulfilling the duties of a personal representative
  • Have no felony convictions or conviction of abusing or neglecting an elderly or incapacitated adult

The Process of Appointment

A personal representative is appointed as follows:

  • The decedent’s will named the person to act as the personal representative
  • If the spouse of the decedent declines to serve or is no longer living, then a majority of the heirs can select a person to act as a personal representative
  • The court approves a person petitioning for appointment as the PR

Assuming the person appointed is qualified to serve according to Florida law, he or she must file a Petition for Administration with the court to initiate a formal probate administration. If the court accepts the petition, the person will swear an oath and then receive Letters of Administration that grant he or she  the authority to manage the decedent’s estate.

After the official appointment, the Personal Representative can begin enacting the duties of the role.

Duties and Responsibilities After Appointment

Generally speaking, personal representatives are responsible for the following:

  • Acting on behalf of the estate, but not on their own personal behalf or on the behalf of the heirs
  • Identifying, collecting and managing the estate’s assets and distributing those assets in accordance with the law after paying any valid debts
  • Paying any valid and timely filed claims
  • Filing lawsuits as needed to gather all of the estate’s assets
  • Filing all applicable taxes, including income taxes, real estate, estate taxes and the like

Powers of a Personal Representative

Personal representatives have a variety of duties they must fulfill. In general, these duties include:

Serving as a fiduciary. They must settle and distribute the decedent’s estate in accordance with the decedent’s will and/or Florida law. They must do so as efficiently and as quickly and in the best interest of the estate.

Following the wishes and directions of the decedent’s will. As long as the will admitted to probate grants the personal representative the power to act, and those are lawful acts, then they cannot be held liable for any act of administration or distribution.

Manage, Collect, Protect and Distribute Estate Assets

To fulfill the obligation of managing, collecting, protecting, and distributing the estate’s assets, the personal representative are required to take these steps:

  • Conduct a careful search of the decedent’s property to locate assets, including hidden assets. It’s the responsibility of the personal representative to find these assets and include them in the estate, including cash, jewelry, bonds, and other items typically found in a safety deposit box.
  • Inventory the decedent’s safe deposit boxes if there are any. The initial opening of a safe deposit box should be conducted with an employee of the institution responsible for the safe deposit box, the personal representatives, or the personal representative’s attorney. The contents of the box should be verified at the time of opening, and a signed copy of the inventory created under penalty of perjury. An inventory must be filed within 10 days after the box is opened.
  • Ascertain if the decedent owned any digital assets.
  • Collect any passwords.
  • Maintain, obtain and pay for any insurance policies for any cars, boats, real estate, etc.
  • Determine whether the decedent had any limited liability or partnership interests.
  • Review bank statements and canceled checks for any continuing obligations.
  • Review income tax returns to evaluate the nature and location of the decedent’s assets.
  • Take possession of the decedent’s driver’s license, social security card and credit and debit cards.

Probate of Will

Common Tasks and Powers of a Florida Personal Representative

Florida statutory law, 733.608, among other sections, require the personal representative to exercise his or her power over all real and personal property of the decedent, including the rents, income, issues, and profits from said assets, to perform the following common tasks:

Selling Homestead Real Property

The personal representative will play some role in the protection and sale of the decedent’s homestead and other real property, like paying insurance premiums, association dues, ad valorem taxes and other obligations until the real estate is either sold or distributed to the beneficiaries.

When the personal representative expends money or incurs obligations to preserve, maintain, insure, or protect the homestead property, then “the personal representative shall be entitled to a lien on that property and its revenues to secure repayment of those expenditures and obligations incurred.” See Florida Statute 733.608 (3).

Handling the Financial Affairs of the Estate

The personal representative is responsible for handling the financial affairs of the estate. One of the first tasks they should do is take control of the decedent’s solely owned bank accounts and transfer the funds to the estate to pay for the upkeep and maintenance of the estate assets.

The personal representative should also immediately take possession of all of the decedent’s credit and debit cards.

Resolving and Paying Claims and Resolve Disputes

The personal representative must address any claims and any financial and legal disputes. They must ascertain if the decedent had any claims against anyone or if there is any pending litigation in which the decedent is a party.

Paying Administrative Expenses

The personal representative is responsible for paying all expenses related to the administration of the estate, which can include any final medical expenses, funeral costs, personal representative fees, attorney fees, accountant fees, and the like. The PR should collect any and all bills, receipts, invoices, and time sheets which are related to the administration of the estate.

Special Powers and Limitations

The court might assign the personal representative additional powers to deal with certain assets, like digital currency or other volatile assets or business interests. The court also has the authority to limit the personal representative’s powers.

In addition to the power granted to a PR, there are several duties he or she must fulfill.

Duties of a Personal Representative

Personal representatives have several duties that fall into one of the following categories:

Fiduciary Duties and Responsibilities

The personal representative has several fiduciary duties and responsibilities, including:

  • Ascertaining creditors from the decedent’s documents and from any bills that are received after death
  • Preparing and filing federal income, gift, and estate tax returns, if applicable
  • Paying any taxes due including real estate taxes

Managing Estate Assets Prudently

The personal representative is also responsible for the prudent management of the estate. This includes:

  • Taking possession of assets and securities and putting them in a secure place
  • Taking control of the decedent’s mail
  • Keeping assets correctly insured (insuring real estate, automobiles, boats, jewelry, etc. in the name of the decedent’s estate)
  • Keeping the estate’s assets separate from the personal representative’s assets
  • Protecting any perishable or wasting assets (automobiles, boats, etc.)

Payment of Debts and Expenses

Personal representatives must pay any valid and timely filed claims, debts, and expenses of the decedent. The PR should review all insurance policies and perhaps keep those policies in place or change the policy holder to the name of the estate.

The personal representative must also notify the Social Security Administration of the death and, if necessary, return checks received post-mortem. The PR should also apply for any death benefits.

Additionally, the PR should review medical bills and apply for medical and hospital benefits from insurance companies. In some cases, this includes Medicare benefits.

Finally, they should return any property in the decedent’s possession at the time of their death that was not the decedent’s property.

Distribution to Beneficiaries

The most well-known duty of the personal representative is to distribute assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries. After the settlement and payment of all valid claims, and all administrative expenses and taxes, then the PR should distribute the estate assets to the beneficiaries.  The personal representative will typically obtain receipts from the beneficiaries in exchange for the beneficiary’s share of the estate.

Accounting and Administration Notice and Reporting Requirements

Under Florida statutory law and the rules of court procedure for probate, there are accounting and administration notice and reporting requirements of the personal representative, including:

  • Obtain a taxpayer identification number for the estate from the Internal Revenue Service
  • Notifying casualty and liability insurers of the decedent’s death and ensuring proper coverage of the estate
  • Notify the Agency for Health Care Administration of the decedent’s death if the decedent was 55 years old or older
  • Notify the Department of Children and Family Services if the decedent received public assistance payments
  • Give notice of the personal representative’s fiduciary relationship to the IRS using Form 56, Notice of Fiduciary Relationship
  • Notifying any known creditors by way of delivery of a Notice to Creditors informing them the creditor that the decedent has died and if they have a claim against the estate to file the claim within the time periods set forth in the statute or have their claim forever barred
  • Filing a Notice of Trust for the decedent’s Revocable Trust (including a disclosure of trust beneficiaries)
  • Preparing and Filing an Estate Inventory setting forth the estate assets including any homestead real property
  • Unless waived, acknowledged and consented to by an estate beneficiaries, deliver to each beneficiary an estate accounting, including an interim accounting, if any, a final accounting, which includes information on the amount of compensation paid to the personal representative, attorneys, accountants, appraisers, and other agents employed by the personal representative
  • Notify each beneficiary and certain other interested parties of the plan of distribution of the estate assets
  • Notify each beneficiary and certain other interested parties of the filing of the Petition for Discharge

Man signs legal document related to his estate

Case Examples of Personal Representative Powers and Duties in Florida

In Dacus v. Blackwell, the heirs of Jerome T. Feaster, who died in 1940, sued the executor of his widow’s estate, C.D. Blackwell, for unpaid taxes and costs that the widow owed to the estate under a Florida law.

Feaster’s widow had not paid her share of taxes on the estate ($17,795.89). When she died in 1951 and C.D. Blackwell became the executor of her estate, Feaster’s children filed a claim against her estate for the unpaid taxes and costs.

According to the court, a personal representative is under a duty to collect debts due to estate both from himself and others, and he is considered as having paid the debt due estate from himself and as having in his possession in his fiduciary capacity that much more cash, particularly where personal representative inherits from the estate. See Dacus v. Blackwell, 90 So.2d 324 (1956).

In Spradley v. Spradley, Glenn Spradley sued his mother’s estate, as well as his brothers for taking legal papers allegedly valued at no less than $15,000 that he’d given to his mother for safekeeping. He claimed that the estate and his brothers’ refused to return the papers to him upon her death.

Initially, the trial court dismissed his case for not having a valid claim stating he’d “not only failed to sue the proper party, but he also failed to allege that the estate had been opened and a personal representative appointed.”

According to the court in this case, an estate is not an entity that can be a party to litigation; it is the personal representative of the estate, in a representative capacity, that is the proper party. See Spradley v. Spradley, App. 2 Dist., 213 So.3d 1042 (2017).

Glen Spradley successfully appealed the trial court’s dismissal. The appellate court ruled that, “despite these deficiencies, the trial court should have granted Mr. Spradley leave to amend his complaint before dismissing his action.

The Requirement For Legal Counsel When Acting as a Florida Personal Representative

According to the Florida rules of court, a probate attorney is needed when a personal representative is appointed in a formal administration when there are more than one interested parties. The purpose is so the attorney can assist the personal representative in navigating the probate process and ensuring that all statutory laws and procedural rules of court are met.

An experienced probate attorney will:

  • Help the personal representatives avoid personal liability for failing to adhere to proper procedures and protocols, statutory laws and the rules of court
  • Inform the personal representative of their legal requirements and deadlines
  • Ensure that court reports are filed properly and on time
  • Determine which tax returns must be filed on behalf of the decedent
  • Procure any bond ordered by the court
  • Assist in determining the value of assets
  • Identify which creditor claims must be paid
  • Make court appearances when needed
  • Ensure that all assets are distributed legally and in accordance with the decedent’s wishes
  • Ensure that the proper estate is closed once everything is complete, including correctly discharging the personal representative from his or her legal duties and obligations.

To learn more about the Florida probate process see our extensive collection of free probate resources.

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Larry Tolchinsky is an experienced Florida probate attorney with years of experience dealing with the Florida Probate Code, its ancillary administration statute, and its related case law. Please feel free to contact Larry Tolchinsky today for a free consultation.

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