You’ve Just Been Named As a Personal Representative, Now What?

If you’ve just learned that you’ve been appointed as a deceased individual’s personal representative also referred to as Executor, you are likely wondering what happens next. A loved one’s death often comes as a shock, and it can be hard to get your bearings afterward. In Massachusetts, personal representatives are responsible for ensuring that the deceased individual’s property is distributed according to their will. If you’ve been appointed as a personal representative, you’ll need to take the following steps.

1. Decide Whether Or Not You’d Like to Accept The Position

The probate process involves transferring the ownership of property and assets to someone else after the decedent passes away. Keep in mind that you are not required to act as a personal representative. You have the option of declining the role. Many people choose to act as a personal representative because they know their friend or loved one wished them to do so. It’s wise to consider how far away the decedent lives from you and how complex their estate will be when deciding.

2. Validate the Decedent’s Will

The next step in the process is to determine whether or not the decedent’s will is valid and legally enforceable. Massachusetts has strict requirements when it comes to administering a valid will. The testator, or person who creates the will, must be of sound mind, and the will must be signed and witnessed by two competent adults. Sometimes family members challenge the will’s validity, and as the personal representative, you will work with a probate court to handle any probate challenges. You will also need to provide adequate notice to beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate. 

3. Collect the Assets

After the Probate Court validates the will, you will need to change the ownership title of the decedent’s real estate holdings and personal property. Personal property includes stocks, bank accounts, and bonds. You only need to change the title when the decedent owned the property without any right to survivorship. If the decedent owned any property jointly with someone else who has a right to survivorship, that person’s ownership interest will transfer immediately at the decedent’s death. Depending on the estate’s size and complexity, gathering all of the decedent’s property and transferring ownership titles can be challenging.

4. Administer the Estate

Part of your duties as a personal representative will depend on the unique aspects of the estate. For example, you may need to appoint a legal guardian for the minor children of the decedent. Next, you will need to ensure that you pay any valid creditors of the decedent with assets from the estate. Once creditors have been paid, you should obtain the decedent’s medical records and file any outstanding tax returns and pay any income or estate tax liability owed by the decedent. Finally, once the creditors and taxes have been paid, you can distribute the assets left in the estate according to the instructions in the decedent’s will. 

Contact Our Estate Administration Law Firm 

If you’ve been named a personal representative, it is wise to speak with an experienced estate administration attorney. As the personal representative, you will have legal duties to ensure that you distribute the assets according to the deceased individuals. If you make mistakes when administering the will, even unintentionally, you could face liability. The skilled estate administration lawyers at Surprenant & Beneski, PC, can help you administer the estate and ensure that your rights are protected. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation. 

©Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. 35 Arnold Street, New Bedford, MA 02740, 336 South Street,   Hyannis MA 02601 and 45 Bristol Drive, Easton MA 02375.  This article is for illustration purposes only.  This handout does not constitute legal advice.  There is no attorney/client relationship created with Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. by this article.  DO NOT make decisions based upon information in this handout.  Every family is unique and legal advice can only be given after an individual consultation with an elder law attorney.  Any decisions made without proper legal advice may cause significant legal and financial problems.