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Who handles the debts and assets of a person's estate?

Many Minnesota residents often prefer to handle sensitive matters by themselves when possible, such as making decisions regarding their finances. When it is necessary to rely on another person to perform these tasks, individuals do not trust just anyone to do the job right. Rather, individuals often turn to those they trust and confide in to handle the sensitive issues on their behalf.

In the world of estate planning, it is necessary to rely on others to perform sensitive matters on behalf of the individual. For instance, another person must necessarily be chosen to carry out the terms of individuals' wills after the makers pass away. This individual is known as a personal representative or executor.

Personal representatives may be given many responsibilities in dealing with various probate issues. For instance, the debts of a person's estate must be paid off and taxes must be filed, and the personal representative is the person responsible for fulfilling these obligations.

The personal representative will also be in charge of distributing a person's assets according to the directions set forth in the individual's will. While this sounds straightforward, there are many steps that can be involved in this process, starting with filing the will and compiling an inventory of the deceased person's assets. On occasion, disputes can arise between heirs, and the personal representative owes a fiduciary duty in addressing these disputes and distributing the assets of the estate accordingly.

Given the sensitive nature of the job involved, it is important to select someone to serve as a personal representative who is qualified and able to perform the job. Close relatives or friends are often chosen for the role, such as a spouse, an adult child or an attorney. So long as these individuals are willing and able to perform the job, it can provide peace of mind to the individual who names that person as personal representative, in knowing that his or her wishes will be carried out after they are gone.

Source: The Office of Attorney General Lori Swanson, "Probate and planning," accessed on Oct. 10, 2014

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