Nearly all jurisdictions have a probate system in which someone is responsible for administering an estate. In Florida, this position is the personal representative.
Personal representatives can be natural people, corporations and trusts. Being a personal representative comes with a great deal of power in many specific responsibilities. When the people or companies abuse or fail in this position, it can have consequences on the entire estate.
Duties of personal representatives
There are various important legal duties that personal representatives must perform. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Identifying and safeguarding the assets of the person who passed away
- Objecting to improper claims against the estate and defending against those claims
- Paying taxes, settling debts and distributing assets to beneficiaries
In essence, the personal representative is responsible for nearly every aspect of the probate process. During the course of executing an estate, there would be many opportunities for malicious or negligent actors to take or omit actions that would harm the estate and its beneficiaries.
Pursuing damages for breach of duty
Personal representatives have, in legal terms, fiduciary duty. This essentially means that they have to act in the best interests of the estate.
If they breach this duty by abusing their authority or by not exercising the power of their position, they might be responsible for any damages that occur. In order to make things right, they might have to pay out of their share of the estate if applicable or their own property they do not have any interest in the estate. This typically happens after a formal process and as the result of a redirection or judgment by the court.