An executor—called a personal representative in Minnesota—is a person or institution appointed to handle a probate estate worth over $75,000. Under a will, a personal representative is often nominated by the person who died, called the decedent. In Minnesota, a nominated personal representative has no power to administer the probate estate until the court appoints them as personal representative. After the court appoints them, they have the power to administer and distribute the probate estate. The probate estate is property titled in only the decedent’s individual name, not in joint tenancy and not designating payable-on-death or transfer-on-death beneficiaries. A personal representative has power over only the probate estate.
Can a personal representative do whatever they want with the probate estate property?
No. A personal representative in Minnesota must administer the estate as a prudent person would. If there is not a will, the personal representative must distribute the estate property as required by Minnesota’s intestacy statutes. If there is a will and the court has admitted that will to probate, the personal representative must distribute the estate property under the terms of the will and applicable law. Even if a will is challenged before it is admitted to probate, a nominated personal representative in Minnesota must defend a seemingly valid will in a will contest.
A personal representative’s powers are also limited by their fiduciary duties. A fiduciary is anyone who, like a personal representative, manages property for the benefit of others. In Minnesota, personal representatives have fiduciary duties of good-faith administration, loyalty, care, impartiality, and prudent administration, among others. If a personal representative breaches their fiduciary duties, the personal representative may be liable for the resulting damages.
Power of Appointment
If the decedent gave the personal representative of their estate a power of appointment, the personal representative may choose (appoint) who receives estate property or how they receive it. In this case, the personal representative has more discretion. Even with a power of appointment, however, a personal representative is still a fiduciary who must administer the probate estate as a prudent person would.
If you are a nominated personal representative or want to challenge a will or a personal representative’s administration of a probate estate, consider contacting an attorney experienced in probate administration or litigation.