The role of executor, or personal representative, of a Massachusetts estate is a significant responsibility. You may feel touched by the deceased individual’s trust in putting you in charge of their final affairs yet overwhelmed by your duties.
Whether you serve as the executor of the estate of your parent, grandparent or more, you may have many questions on what to expect, how to stay organized and more. Read on for a few key considerations for personal representatives:
Do: Make a list of immediate steps to take
Your first steps after being named personal representative should include:
- Locating the will of the deceased individual, or decedent
- Cancelling credit cards
- Safeguarding property and valuable assets
- Obtaining the death certificate
Next, initiate the probate process by submitting the will to the appropriate probate court. Consider hiring legal representation at this point. Managing the complex probate process can be challenging. An attorney can help you to efficiently navigate this process.
Do: Understand your personal liability could be at stake
You likely have no intention of sidestepping your duties or committing breach of fiduciary duty. However, understand that a simple mistake or mix up could risk the assets in the estate. If you pay lower priority debts before high priority expenses or claims, the court could find you liable to pay outstanding payments when the estate has no money left.
Don’t: Play favorites among beneficiaries
Depending on your situation, you may be the executor of an estate with beneficiaries including your siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and other loved ones. Family dynamics can be tricky to navigate as an executor. It is crucial to remain impartial and strictly abide by the wishes of the decedent according to their will.
Don’t: Procrastinate on getting organized
This may be a difficult time for you. You may grieve the loss of your loved one and feel overwhelmed at your duties. However, being an executor requires proper organization to keep track of the many details involved and retail control of the situation. Keep key documents in a central, secure place, including the death certificate, estate planning documents, financial statements, tax returns, real estate deeds, insurance policies, contact information of beneficiaries and more.
Probate can be a long, confusing process. Maintain open lines of communication with all involved, including the beneficiaries, probate court, creditors and more. Work with your attorney to thoroughly understand your duties and what to expect.