A personal representative is someone who is responsible for managing financial affairs on behalf of another person. The most common type of personal representative is an executor, also called an administrator, who handles the processing of a will. Personal representatives can also act on behalf of living people who are unable to manage their own financial affairs, as for example when a minor needs a guardian because she or he is not allowed to undertake financial decisions independently.
The personal representative has total control over the financial affairs he or she is handling, in most cases. This requires a person with very high ethical standards who will behave with a high degree of responsibility. Personal representatives are generally charged to handle the financial affairs they are responsible for as though they were their own, while keeping expressed wishes in mind. For example, if a personal representative knows that a decedent wanted money donated to a charitable cause, the representative would make sure that this wish was honored.
With a will, the personal representative often works with a probate attorney, because the process can become complicated. The representative reads the will, notifies creditors of the deceased, and ensures that all of the legacies are carried out as directed and that the terms of the will are satisfied. In exchange for this work, the personal representative receives a fee which is paid out of the estate. If the fee is not indicated in the will, the probate court will determine how much the representative should be paid.
When managing affairs on behalf of a living person, the personal representative is obliged to handle the affairs as closely as possible in accordance with the wishes of the person the representative is working for. Representatives are also expected to steward accounts wisely, and to behave responsibly when it comes to determining how money should be utilized. For example, a guardian could not spend profligately on household goods under the argument that this might deprive the guardian's charge of needed income in the future.
In some cases, a personal representative must be appointed by a court of law. This can happen when someone dies without a will, or when named personal representatives are not available. The court often appoints an experienced attorney or a company which offers personal representation, and these appointed representatives are held to the same standards as those who are named in wills or other documents.