Florida Probate Statute 733.6121: Personal Representative; Powers as to Environmental Issues Relating to Property Subject to Administration; Liability
The job of a personal representative can be challenging. Along with the general duties of settling a decedent’s estate and distributing the estate assets, the personal representative may be faced with a variety of unexpected issues along the way that he (or she) must address in a manner that does not jeopardize the estate, or him personally. Some such issues relate to the estate property and environmental issues. The personal representative must ensure that the estate remains in compliance with federal, state and local environmental laws, regulations, and ordinances. If you have concerns related to compliance with the requirements of Florida Statutes, section 733.6121- Personal representative; powers as to environmental issues relating to property subject to administration; liability, contact a skilled Fort Lauderdale estate administration lawyer at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates who can help ensure that any environmental problems are appropriately addressed.General Duties of the Personal Representative
The personal representative has several general duties and responsibilities related to the management of the decedent’s estate. One of the first things that he must do is take control of the probate assets. Estate assets may include real property such as the house in which the decedent lived. It also may include personal property such as vehicles, bank accounts, clothing jewelry, appliances, and collectibles such as artwork. However, as a Fort Lauderdale estate administration lawyer will explain, not all property owned by the decedent is probate property subject to court-supervised administration. Some assets such as retirement accounts, life insurance, and asset in a trust are not probate assets and are not subject to the personal’s representative’s control.
The personal representative is also responsible for paying estate debts, paying expenses related to administration, and settling claims such as personal injury or contract lawsuits filed against the decedent. With few exceptions, the personal representative cannot distribute probate property until debts and expenses are paid. Distributing estate assets is one of the final steps in the estate administration process. If the decedent left a will, the personal representative must distribute assets based on the terms of the will. Otherwise, the assets will be distributed based on Florida’s intestacy rules.Personal Representative’s Powers as to Environmental Issues
In the course of settling a decedent’s estate and ultimately distributing its assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries or heirs, according to Florida Statutes, section 733.6121- Personal representative; powers as to environmental issues relating to property subject to administration; liability, the personal representative is authorized to complete a variety of transactions related to environmental issues of real property. The powers that the representative has include:
- Property inspections. The personal representative is authorized to have property owned by the estate inspected to determine if there are any environmental problems.
- Remedy environmental problems. The personal representative also has the authority to take steps to fix problems on estate property that violate or potentially violate environmental law.
- Settle claims. The personal representative is authorized to settle claims against the estate related to violations of environmental law.
- Avoid liability under environmental law. The personal representative may disclaim any power granted to him which would result in him or the estate incurring liability under any environmental law.
- Decline position. A personal representative has the right to decline to serve as a personal representative or to resign, if there is might be a conflict of interest due to possible claims or liabilities that could be asserted on behalf of the estate because of the condition of estate assets.
- Cost of inspection. The personal representative has the right to charge the estate the reasonable fees associated with the inspection, investigation, review, or cleanup of any environmental problem on the estate.
As a skilled estate administration attorney in Fort Lauderdale will explain, the law shields the personal representative from liability related to environmental issues on estate property. For example, a personal representative is not personally liable for a decrease in value of estate assets because of the personal representative’s compliance with an environmental law.
However, if a personal representative who willfully, knowingly, or recklessly contributes to the release of a hazardous substance, he (or she) would be personally liable for the cost of the response.Related Statutory Provisions
- Transactions authorized for the personal representative; exceptions: § 733.612, Fla. Stat.
- Personal representative’s right to sell real property: § 733.613, Fla. Stat.
- Powers and duties of successor personal representative: § 733.614, Fla. Stat.
- Joint personal representatives; when joint action required: § 733.615, Fla. Stat
- Except as otherwise provided by the will or by court order, and subject to s. 733.805, the personal representative has, without court authorization, the powers specified in subsection (2).
- A personal representative has the power, acting reasonably and for the benefit of the interested persons:
- To inspect or investigate, or cause to be inspected or investigated, property subject to administration, including interests in sole proprietorships, partnerships, or corporations and any assets owned by such a business entity for the purpose of determining compliance with an environmental law affecting that property or to respond to an actual or threatened violation of an environmental law affecting that property;
- To take, on behalf of the estate, any action necessary to prevent, abate, or otherwise remedy an actual or potential violation of an environmental law affecting property subject to administration, either before or after initiation of an enforcement action by a governmental body;
- To settle or compromise at any time any claim against the estate or the personal representative that may be asserted by a governmental body or private party which involves the alleged violation of an environmental law affecting property subject to administration over which the personal representative has responsibility;
- To disclaim any power granted by any document, statute, or rule of law which, in the sole judgment of the personal representative, could cause the personal representative to incur personal liability, or the estate to incur liability, under any environmental law;
- To decline to serve as a personal representative, or having undertaken to serve, to resign at any time, if the personal representative believes that there is or could be a conflict of interest because of potential claims or liabilities that could be asserted on behalf of the estate by reason of the type or condition of the assets held; or
- To charge against the assets of the estate the cost of any inspection, investigation, review, abatement, response, cleanup, or remedial action considered reasonable by the personal representative; and, in the event of the closing or termination of the estate or the transfer of the estate property to another personal representative, to hold moneys sufficient to cover the cost of cleaning up any known environmental problem.
- A personal representative is not personally liable to any beneficiary or any other party for a decrease in value of assets in an estate by reason of the personal representative’s compliance or efforts to comply with an environmental law, specifically including any reporting requirement under that law.
- A personal representative who acquires ownership or control of a vessel or other property without having owned, operated, or materially participated in the management of that vessel or property before assuming ownership or control as personal representative is not considered an owner or operator for purposes of liability under chapter 376, chapter 403, or any other environmental law. A personal representative who willfully, knowingly, or recklessly causes or exacerbates a release or threatened release of a hazardous substance is personally liable for the cost of the response, to the extent that the release or threatened release is attributable to the personal representative’s activities. This subsection does not preclude the filing of claims against the assets that constitute the estate held by the personal representative or the filing of actions against the personal representative as representative of the estate. In such an action, an award or judgment against the personal representative must be satisfied only from the assets of the estate.
- Neither the acceptance by the personal representative of the property or a failure by the personal representative to inspect or investigate the property creates any inference of liability under an environmental law with respect to that property.
- For the purposes of this section, the term “environmental law” means a federal, state, or local law, rule, regulation, or ordinance that relates to protection of the environment or human health, and the term “hazardous substance” means a substance, material, or waste defined as hazardous or toxic, or any contaminant, pollutant, or constituent thereof, or otherwise regulated by an environmental law.
- This section applies to any estate admitted to probate on or after July 1, 1995.
In Florida, settling a loved one’s estate can be complicated. In addition to routine activities, the personal representative must respond to expected issues that come to his (or her) attention during administration, such as environmental issues that must be addressed according to federal, state, or local law. Whether you are a personal representative or another interested party, it is important that you understand what the personal representative is authorized to do under Florida’s Probate Code, including, section 733.6121- Personal representative; powers as to environmental issues relating to property subject to administration; liability. The skilled estate administration attorneys serving Fort Lauderdale at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates have years of experience representing fiduciaries, beneficiaries, and other parties in matters related to estate administration. We can help. Contact us attorneys at 561-710-4000 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case.