When you die someone has to ensure that your wishes are followed during the probate process. Depending on the state in which you live and the conditions under which you die, this person is generally known as either an executive, estate administrator or a personal representative. It is up to the personal representative to manage your estate while the probate process takes place.
As a testator—a person who creates a last will and testament– you have the right to nominate your own executor to handle your probate case. If you die without a will, the person who handles your estate is commonly known as a personal representative.
Once you die, a friend or family member typically goes to the probate court in the state in which you live and opens a probate case. This person will then ask the court to give him or her the legal authority to begin the probate process. Once the court approves the request it names the person as personal representative. He or she can then start inventorying your estate property, pay any debts that you’ve left behind and then distribute any remaining estate property to those beneficiaries you named in your will.
Because the personal representative has to do most of the work in the probate case, he or she should be knowledgeable about the state probate laws and procedures. If not, the personal representative should hire an experienced estate planning attorney to assist with the often complicated process.