Thoughts on Being a Personal Representative

May 24, 2022 | 0 comments

Being a personal representative for an estate is a big job. If someone asks you to be an executor or personal representative for their estate, here’s a glimpse into what’s involved.

Years ago, my husband Dave and I agreed to accept the responsibility of being the back-up healthcare power of attorney (POA) and personal representatives for an elderly couple we knew through our synagogue.

Personal Representative for Sid and JeanneSid and Jeanne were delightful, thoughtful, well-organized people. Their only daughter had died in a tragic accident. They re-did their wills and trust to have friends from the synagogue carry out their last wishes. Jeanne died in 2016, after 66 years of marriage. Sid died in 2022 at the age of 94, after missing his beloved wife for six long years.

The primary POA representative had served Sid faithfully for many years. She helped him pay his bills because he had macular degeneration. She took him to medical appointments. Just before the pandemic shut down access to Sid in his assisted living residence, she had turned over the financial management of his affairs to a trust company. Finally, she felt she had done enough.

She asked me and my husband to step up from being the back-up POA representatives to being the primary. When we made that commitment many years ago, it didn’t seem like a big deal. We agreed to honor those responsibilities.

Literally the same day we spoke and were handed the decision-making responsibilities, Sid was taken by ambulance to the hospital. He died the next morning. We were immediately thrust into the role of estate personal representatives. I had a funeral to plan, jewelry and artwork to distribute, people to call about his death, and an apartment to clean out in 30 days.

Other Thoughts on Being a Personal Representative

It takes a lot of time to process an estate after someone dies. In the first two weeks after Sid’s death, my husband and I put in more than a combined 100 hours of work. We sorted through items in his apartment, finalized his pre-planned and pre-paid funeral and cemetery arrangements, called distant relatives, and worked with the trust company.

Fortunately, this couple had been very organized about their affairs. We didn’t have to deal with any of the financial and tax implications of the estate, which were being handled by the trust company. I shudder to think what we would have had to contend with if they hadn’t been so organized.

Being a personal representative is exhausting work, both physically and emotionally. Dismantling his apartment, we found most of his wife’s things were still there. We threw out old packaged foods that expired as long as six years ago. We safely disposed of prescription and over-the-counter medications.

In order to get military honors at the graveside funeral, I needed to provide Sid’s DD214 form attesting to his Navy service. That required a frustrating deep dive into the office files in two tall four-drawer filing cabinets. It wasn’t there. But looking around for other places it could be in the office, I finally found it in a vinyl briefcase under the computer.Casket Graveside

On the plus side, they had excellent taste in modern furniture. Per Sid and Jeanne’s directions, my husband and I received several pieces of solid teak furnishings, two Navajo rugs, and beautiful Southwest jewelry as a reward for our work.

Personal representatives get an intimate tour of other people’s lives. There were so many photos of people we didn’t know. Part of the work involved calling distant family members and piecing together the puzzle of who was related how. Sid and Jeanne’s list of jewelry and art bequests guided me to have conversations with relatives in other parts of the country. These calls helped me figure out what to do with photo albums with old pictures of family members.

Personal Representative Tips

Here are a few tips that can help you be a better personal representative for an estate.

Use a dedicated notebook, such as a journal or college ruled composition book, to keep track of all your notes. It’s a great way to keep all the contact information for companies and people you are working with. Carry the notebook with you always – you never know when you’ll need to write down a piece of information or look up a phone number. I use a star to mark action items needed to do, then put a check mark and the date next to the star when that item is taken care of.

Write down the time you spend daily as a personal representative. If you are being paid for your time, you’ll need to document how much time you worked. If you aren’t being paid, tracking your time can build a case to get some income for your efforts. Depending on the directions in the estate documents, personal representatives can be paid in the range of $30 to $80 an hour.

Keep receipts for out-of-pocket expenses for reimbursement from the estate. These expenses can include funeral and obituary costs, postage/shipping costs, meals while working on estate issues, and supplies like trash bags, packing tape, bubble wrap, and boxes. Keep your receipts collected in an envelope to make it easier to submit for reimbursements.

Save photographs of people. Confer with family members to help identify those people. You can likely let go of the pictures of landscapes, buildings, statues, and other vacation images without people. Unless it is a truly stunning image, no one wants other people’s vacation pictures.

Lastly, recognize that as a personal representative, you are doing an incredibly good deed, a mitzvah as this is called in Judaism. You are making sure the wishes of the deceased are fulfilled, and this is a favor that he or she cannot repay. Even if you aren’t being paid monetarily to carry out these duties, you earn major mitzvah points for your work.

Sidney Steinberg Memorial Gathering


Gail Rubin, Certified Thanatologist and The Doyenne of Death®, is an award-winning speaker, author, and coordinator of the Before I Die New Mexico Festival ( She is also a Certified Funeral Celebrant. Her three books on planning ahead for end-of-life issues – A Good Goodbye, Hail and Farewell, and Kicking the Bucket List – are available through Amazon and her website,

A Good Goodbye