A personal representative is someone who is appointed to act on behalf of an estate. In other states, this role is sometimes called an executor. A personal representative is required for most estates in Florida and is responsible for most of the tasks involved in Florida probate, such as notifying and paying creditors and dispersing assets to beneficiaries.
The role of the personal representative is an important one that can have ramifications for everyone with an interest in an estate. In a perfect world, all personal representatives would have the best interests of everyone (including the deceased) in mind throughout the probate process. But what happens when there’s a problem?
The probate court confirms and appoints a personal representative. If the deceased left a Will that nominated a personal representative, the court will almost always confirm that person (assuming that he or she is fit to serve in the role). If no Will existed, the deceased’s spouse will often be named the personal representative.
If more than one person petitions to be the representative, the court will look at the Florida Statute governing who has preference of appointment to determine who to name as personal representative.
Due to all the factors mentioned, the choice of a personal representative for an estate is a combination of the deceased’s wishes, state statutes, and, in certain situations, the discretion of the probate court. Once appointed, however, it does not mean the personal representative can act without care.
It’s possible to petition the court to remove a personal representative. However, it’s not a decision that the probate court will overturn lightly or without good reason. Grounds to remove a personal representative are set out in Florida Statute governing removal of a personal representative.
When a Petition for Removal is received, the probate court will consider whether specific grounds exist to remove the personal representative or if the personal representative was qualified at the time of appointment. Some of the reasons why the court might remove a representative include:
There are other reasons as well, but the list isn’t long. In short, to remove a personal representative, you’re going to need a compelling reason.
Florida law states that only an “Interested Person” can petition for removal. An Interested Person is a beneficiary, heir, creditor, or someone else “who may reasonably be expected to be affected by the outcome” of the estate . While an Interested Person is defined broadly, a petition cannot be filed by someone who does not have a specific interest covered by the statute. Essentially, you must have some sort of connection to the estate in order to petition for removal.
If you’re concerned that the personal representative is not appropriately carrying out his or her duties, and you have an interest in the estate as described above, you can file a Petition for Removal in probate court. A hearing will be held in which you can present your case and evidence in what is called an evidentiary hearing. The court will then determine whether to remove the personal representative.
It’s important to note that the person who files the Petition for Removal does not automatically become the representative if the previous personal representative is removed. The court will appoint a new representative which may or may not be the individual seeking removal depending on the facts of the case.
Do you have questions about your specific situation? Contact Messina Law Group today to request a consultation.