Executors, now known as Personal Representatives, play a key role in carrying out the wishes outlined in your estate plan. Understanding the specific responsibilities of a Personal Representative in Massachusetts can help you select the right person for the job. This, in turn, can give both you and your heirs peace of mind.

Legal Appointment

Your death doesn’t automatically give your designated Personal Representative any legal rights. That must be done by the courts as part of the probate process. The estate Personal Representative must file certain paperwork with the courts to be legally appointed as a Personal Representative in Massachusetts. If not a resident of Massachusetts, a local “Agent” must be assigned. Often, Personal Representatives will hire a local attorney to assist with settling the estate, in which case, the attorney can be the local Agent. The court process can take several weeks or even months, during which time the Personal Representative (executor) has no legal rights. 

Organizing Finances of the Estate

Once legal appointment takes place, a certified copy of that appointment can be used to start managing the estate’s assets and debts. One of the first things the estate Personal Representative should do is request a tax ID number and establish a bank account for the estate. Estate assets should be completely separate from any personal assets of the Personal Representative (executor). The Personal Representative should also be the only signatory on that account; no unauthorized parties should have access. All existing financial assets should be transferred into this new account.

Liquifying Assets

The Personal Representative will be responsible for liquifying estate assets, since he/she is the only one with legal rights to do so. Assets may include anything from investment accounts to personal property and real estate. All proceeds from those sales should go into the estate’s account. 

Distribution to Heirs

Personal Representatives of an estate in Massachusetts are responsible for carrying out the specific instructions in your estate plan. This includes distribution of assets to heirs. Since debtors have one year from your death to file a claim against your estate, it is often best to wait until that timeframe has lapsed before doing so. 

This can be difficult as your heirs may be anxious to receive financial support. Although it is possible to distribute funds early, estate Personal Representative can be personally liable for any shortage of funds as a result of that early distribution. The only option for heirs who feel a Personal Representative has mismanaged funds or violated the terms outlined in the estate plan is to file a lawsuit.

Summary of Responsibilities of a Personal Representative of an Estate in Massachusetts

As you can see from the short overview above, Personal Representatives must be able to handle a few different types of tasks. They must file legal paperwork, sell assets, pay debts, distribute funds to heirs, etc. Given the types of tasks involved, picking a  Personal Representative who has the maturity and ability to understand and perform them is key. Personal Representatives can hire professionals to assist them, such as attorneys and financial advisors, but they still should have a general understanding of these matters. Selecting a competent and qualified Personal Representative in Massachusetts is just one more way to protect your estate for the benefit of your heirs.