Being the personal representative of a Florida estate carries with it certain fiduciary duties, including the duties of honesty, loyalty, prudence, and a duty to account.
Here are 6 ways to avoid breaching your duty as a Florida personal representative:
- Avoid Self-Dealing: Self dealing occurs when the personal representative engages in transactions between the personal representative and the estate, taking advantage of the personal representative’s position and acting in furtherance of the personal representative’s own interests instead of the beneficiaries’ interests. Self-dealing can be anything from misappropriating assets, or usurping opportunities for the personal representative’s own benefit.
- Obey Court Orders: Failure to obey court orders is a ground to remove a Florida personal representative. Courts will often enter orders with deadlines for the personal representative to complete a certain act, such as filing an accounting. If the court orders you to do something, do it, and do it within the time frame required. Read Personal Representative In Contempt of Court – Due Process Trumps Breach of Fiduciary Duty.
- Do Not Invest Improperly: The Personal Representative of a Florida estate is required to invest the assets of the estate cautiously and conservatively. When estate assets are invested improperly by the personal representative and loss is caused to the estate, a breach of fiduciary duty may have occurred. The breach of fiduciary duty can be remedied by an action for breach of fiduciary duty, which is sometimes called a surcharge action. The personal representative could be held personally responsible for the loss to the estate.
- Do Not Overly Compensate Yourself: Personal representatives are entitled to reasonable compensation as set forth by the Florida Probate Code (see here), based off of the size of the probate estate and certain other factors if relevant. If the Florida personal representative takes a fee greater than what the court deems reasonable, the Florida probate court can reduce the compensation paid to the Florida personal representative.
- Do Not Commit Fraud: Although this one seems obvious, do not steal from the estate or otherwise commit intentional acts of fraud, deceit, and dishonesty. A personal representative has a fiduciary duty of honesty and loyalty.
- Follow the Florida Probate Code and Florida Probate Rules: The Florida Probate Code provides detailed rules governing the conduct of the personal representative. The Florida Probate Rules govern the procedural requirements for administering an estate, and must also be carefully followed. When a Florida personal representative violates these rules, an inheritance can be jeopardized, and the personal representative can be found to have violated his fiduciary duties.
The easiest way to avoid breaching your duties as a Florida personal representative is to follow your Florida probate lawyer‘s direction, follow the court’s orders, and communicate openly and honestly with the estate beneficiaries about the assets of the estate and the status of the administration. To learn about the responsibilities of the personal representative, click here.