Who Is an Executor (Personal Representative) of a Will and What Are their Duties ?

Serving as the executor (known in Massachusetts as a Personal Representative)  of a loved one’s estate is an important task that carries a number of responsibilities. As a result, while almost anyone can serve as an executor (with the right legal guidance), in order to adequately protect your loved one’s estate (and your own personal financial security), it is critical to understand the rules, processes, and procedures involved.

The following are answers to some frequently-asked questions about serving as an executor/personal representative in Massachusetts. For legal advice custom-tailored to your individual circumstances, please contact us to speak with one of our estate administration attorneys.

Answers to FAQs: What You Need to Know if You’ve Been Appointed the Executor/Personal Representative of a Will in Massachusetts

Q: What is an Executor?

An executor, also commonly referred to as a personal representative, is the person nominated and appointed to administer a person’s final affairs after death. A personal representative can be designated in the deceased’s will; or, if necessary, one will be appointed by the court at the start of the probate process if there is no will.

Q: What is Probate?

Probate is the formal court process used to carry out the terms of someone’s will and appoint the executor. During probate, the executor must carry out his or her duties as prescribed by the decedent’s will and in accordance with Massachusetts law.

Q: What is Your Role as an Executor?

As an executor, your role depends in large part on the terms of the decedent’s will. However, in a typical scenario, an executor’s role will include:

  • Identifying and accounting for the assets that comprise the decedent’s estate;
  • Paying any valid creditor claims;
  • Paying all applicable income and estate taxes;
  • Distributing the decedent’s remaining assets according to the terms of his or her will; and,
  • Carrying out any other probate tasks, such as ensuring appointment of a proper guardian for the decedent’s minor children.

Q: What are an Executor’s Legal Duties?

An executor has a legal duty to administer the decedent’s estate in the estate’s best interests. This means abiding by the terms of the will, avoiding any conflicts of interest, completing all tasks in a timely manner, and taking appropriate steps to preserve assets in the estate until their distribution. In Massachusetts, executors have various other duties as well,  including  providing notice to heirs and taking legal action if necessary to defend the decedent’s will.

Q: As an Executor, What are Some Common Mistakes to Avoid?

In recognition of these duties, there are a number of mistakes that executors need to avoid. Not only can these mistakes result in improper administration of the decedent’s estate; but, in some cases, they can also expose an executor to personal financial liability. Some common mistakes during probate and estate administration include:

  • Improperly interpreting or applying the terms of the decedent’s will
  • Failing to provide adequate notice to heirs
  • Making distributions to family members before paying all valid creditor claims
  • Failing to adequately preserve estate assets (which may require investing certain assets or selling assets, such as real estate, to avoid losses)
  • Failure to file estate tax returns and not obtaining release of liens against Massachusetts real estate
  • Waiting too long to perform certain tasks or close the estate

Q: Where Can I Find More Information?

If you would like more information about serving as executor of an estate in Massachusetts, the Probate and Family Court provides some useful free resources online. Additionally, if you have been appointed as executor of a loved one’s will and would like to speak with an attorney about your role, we encourage you to contact us for a confidential consultation.

Speak with an Estate Administration Lawyer in Cambridge, MA

To speak with an attorney at our Cambridge, MA law offices about your responsibilities as an executor, please call (888) 743-3136 or contact us online. We will arrange for you to meet with one of our attorneys as soon as possible.

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