Partial distributions are often a mine field for a personal representative and should be frowned upon except in cases of extreme need such as for medical or necessary living expenses. Partial distributions are also practical when there is an abundance of assets that can be readily distributed and few if any liabilities. Utah Code Annotated Section 75-3-704 allows a personal representative to “proceed expeditiously with the settlement and distribution of a decedent’s estate and except as otherwise specified or ordered in regard to a supervised personal representative, do so without adjudication, order, or direction of the court, but may invoke the jurisdiction of the court in proceedings authorized by this code to resolve questions concerning the estate or its administration.” This is broad discretion for the personal representative. However, there is always risk when making a partial distribution. Utah Code Annotated Section 75-3-807 provides that a just claim may be made at any time but that the personal representative is personally liable if the partial distribution was made before the expiration for the presentation of claims and there was not adequate security obtained from the payee.
In other words, the personal representative cannot make a partial distribution to an heir and leave another heir or creditor at risk of not receiving their just amount. The risk is further exacerbated by the personal representative who makes a partial distribution to one heir but not to another. This situation may be avoided by informally informing the other heirs that a partial distribution is being made and the reason for such distributions.
In all cases any partial distribution should be accompanied by a release and waiver. This document is signed by the receiving party who is acknowledging receipt and releases the personal representative from liability with respect to the distribution.