A person who takes out administration in the estate of a deceased’s person (called the Personal Representative) can be one or more of the Executors named in the Will or perhaps one of the next of kin where there is no Will.
Whatever the basis for the appointment, there are onerous responsibilities placed on a Personal Representative which can give rise to personal liability. These onerous responsibilities can be safely navigated under the guidance of and with appropriate advice from your Solicitor.
Without expert professional advice, the danger for the Personal Representative is that he/she will miss something important, which may not be immediately apparent to them due to lack of experience. Examples of these are as follows:
1. The Revenue Commissioners can impose personal liability on Personal Representatives where liabilities of the estate have not been discharged properly.
2. There are limitation periods applicable to claims in respect of the estate by third parties. Your Solicitor will be able to assess whether these are relevant in a particular case and advise the Personal Representative accordingly. The winding up/distribution of an estate before potential third party claims have been identified and dealt with, within the relevant limitation periods, can give rise to potential exposure for a Personal Representative. There are specific statutory obligations imposed on Personal Representatives, for example in a case where the deceased is survived by a spouse/civil partner. In certain cases, specific notices of a technical nature have to be served within specific time periods and proceeding with the administration of an estate without the benefit of the necessary notifications can give rise to difficulties later and expose the Personal Representative to liability. Issues can also arise where the deceased was co-habiting although not married or civilly partnered.
3. Words which appear to have a perfectly clear meaning to one person may mean something quite different to another. The interpretation of a Will, the interpretation of statutory provisions, and the interpretation of the various words and phrases which are used in the various documents which must be filed in any administration of the estate of a deceased person, are technical matters requiring professional expertise. Proceeding with the administration of an estate on the basis of a presumed meaning of particulars words, whether in a Will or otherwise, which subsequently proves to be erroneous can have disastrous consequences both for the Personal Representatives and the beneficiaries of an estate.
In general there are specific steps that can be taken by a Personal Representative to protect himself/herself from personal liability and a Solicitor will be aware of these and when it is appropriate to take them.