Q: You wrote about personal representatives recently. What happens if you don’t have any family to be personal representative? Other than a family member, who can be personal representative?
A: Last week I wrote about the differences between an executor, executrix and personal representative. What this question points out is that it doesn’t really matter what you call them if you don’t have someone to designate in the first place.
I was really glad to see this question because the issue comes up more often than you might think. One of the things that surprised me most when I became an attorney many years ago is how many people never marry and/or have children. Maybe I noticed it because I come from a big family. When I was growing up, you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting one of my siblings or cousins.
The first thing to clear up is that the personal representative has to be a family member. That’s just not the case. There is no requirement that you appoint a child, grandchild or other close family member. The truth is you can pick whomever you want.
I pointed out in last week’s column the requirements a personal representative has to meet to be appointed. Those requirements include being at least 18 years of age; not being incapacitated; and not being a felon or an “undesirable.” As long as your designee meets those requirements, they can serve.
To get back to the reader’s question, what happens if you don’t have any family to serve? The first thing I would suggest is that although you might not be close, you likely have family. If you are insistent on using a family member, I’m guessing that you have some family somewhere. Whether they are the right person for the job, I don’t know, but if you want a family member to do it, I bet there is a relative.
If you don’t have your heart set on a family member, consider a close friend. Remember that there is no requirement that the personal representative be a relative. If you have a friend that is organized, trustworthy and willing, they might be an option.
If you don’t have a friend or family member, you might consider using an institution that holds trust powers, such as a bank’s trust department. We are fortunate in Northwest Indiana to have a number of community banks that still offer traditional trust services such as estate administration. Sure, they charge a fee for their services, but in return you receive expertise in estate administration. Your family will also have someone to yell at if things go bad.
Finally, if none of those options work, you might try talking to the attorney to see if he or she will serve as personal representative. To be honest, most attorneys will say no, because attorneys want to practice law, not serve as administrators, but it’s worth a shot. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no.
There are a number of options when choosing a personal representative. I just suggest that whomever you choose, you have a conversation with them first to make sure that they are willing to help out. Good luck with your search.
Christopher W. Yugo is an attorney in Crown Point. Chris’ Estate Planning Article appears online every Sunday at www.nwi.com. Address questions to Chris in care of The Times, 601 W. 45th Ave., Munster, IN 46321 or to Chrisyugolaw@gmail.com. Chris’ information is meant to be general in nature. Specific legal, tax, or insurance questions should be referred to your attorney, accountant, or estate-planning specialist.