I believe there exists a misconception by beneficiaries regarding the role of attorneys who represent personal representatives in formal administration. A personal representative is the individual or entity appointed by a judge to conduct administration of an estate. Beneficiaries are other interested parties who are to inherit under the estate of the deceased. Formal administration is the longest and most complex of the probate procedures. If the estate of a deceased does not qualify for summary administration or disposition without administration, any probate assets must go through a process called formal probate. My goal in this post is to shed light on the true role of the attorney for the personal representative.
The chosen personal representative is required by Florida law to have an attorney represent them with the exception of certain limited circumstances. While the personal representative is required to choose an attorney to represent them, the other beneficiaries of an estate are free to choose to represent themselves. For a number of reasons, it may appear to unknowing beneficiaries as though that attorney representing the personal representative, represents not only that person or entity but the estate itself and all the beneficiaries. As a result, beneficiaries may believe that this attorney has their best interest in mind as well. This may be due to the fact that the attorney might converse with all the beneficiaries, send letters and pleadings providing important information, answer questions, and otherwise involve them in the process. However, the truth is that their primary obligation is to represent the interests of the personal representative in administering the estate. Their primary obligation is not to represent the interests of the beneficiaries.
As stated earlier, formal administration is the most complex of probate procedures. There are notice requirements and other objection rights which beneficiaries have as a part of the process to ensure fairness. If you do not completely trust or have a good relationship with the personal representative for any reason or simply do not understand the different correspondences that you are receiving from the attorney for the personal representative, consider hiring your own attorney to guide you through the process. This will ensure that you have someone who exclusively represents only your interests, is available to answer questions, and can alert you to potential claims and pitfalls so that you are confident you are receiving your fair share. If you are expecting the attorney selected by the personal representative to represent your best interests as well, that assumption could be a costly mistake.