Stop, Look, Listen

Q. I am named as personal representative in my father’s will. Can I sell his car immediately after his death so I don’t have to make the payments and start distributing other personal property from the house the day of his funeral?

A. The facts and details of your situation need to be discussed with an attorney and/or the probate court.  Here are just some of the things that must be considered.

I understand that it is convenient and often cost efficient at times to send items home with family and friends who have traveled a great distance for the funeral, but it could be a bad idea.

While you are nominated as personal representative (the new generic term for the executor or executrix) by your father’s will you have no authority until you are appointed to that position by the probate court.  In addition to the original will a death certificate is required for the court to act, and the later document is rarely available at the funeral.

Since your father is still alive and possibly competent he could change the terms of his will prior to his death to remove you as personal representative or still designate specific items to specific beneficiaries in a personal property memorandum.  It is possible there is already another will and someone may challenge your appointment.  Someone could also successfully challenge the will itself.

Personal representatives must address valid creditor claims which could be unknown to you and have yet to be filed at the time of the funeral.  To satisfy these debts it may be necessary to sell some of the personal property.  That having been said if you are appointed as Personal Representative you have no personal liability for your father’s financial obligations, so while it may be wise to quickly sell the car, you personally don’t have to make any payments.  I want to emphasize again that personal representatives have responsibilities to creditors, all named beneficiaries and to the court.  For example the personal representative must file an Inventory with the court and possibly a written proposal for distribution that the beneficiaries must approve.  Receipts and Releases must be filed with the court for any items a beneficiary receives.

Check with an attorney knowledgeable on wills and probate administration.

Disclaimer:  Information contained in this column is meant to be of general information on frequently asked questions concerning disability, elder law, estate planning and probate law, and does not contain specific legal advice to a client.  No attorney-client relationship is created by reading this column.     6/2019

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