What Does it Mean to be a Personal Representative?
At the simplest level, a Personal Representative (PR) is responsible for collecting all the assets of the estate of someone who has died and then paying that person's debts. At the end of that process, any remaining assets can be distributed to heirs. Sometimes, people are confused by the word "estate" and think that the term applies only to the very wealthy. An estate is just what you own. Many people have simple estates with a car or two, a house and some bank accounts. Generally, tidying up a small estate is an easy process that a reasonably-organized person can handle.
You can be nominated to serve as PR in a person's will or you can nominate yourself to serve if a person dies without a will. When there is no will, a relative or friend can go to the courthouse in the county where the deceased person lived, present a certified copy of the death certificate, and ask to be nominated as Personal Representative. In Wisconsin, the probate courts prefer that the PR be a Wisconsin resident.
The PR has a duty to act in a trustworthy manner and must submit various documents to the Probate Court under deadlines set by the court. Fortunately, if a PR needs help from an accountant or an attorney, he or she can hire the needed help and charge the estate. While a PR can also charge for time, many PRs do the job for free or for very little in order to save money for the estate. Acting as PR can be thought of as a final gift to a deceased person because it can preserve more money to fulfill a person's final wishes.