personal representative on computer

What Every Personal Representative Should Know

If you have been chosen as a personal representative (executor) of a loved one’s estate, this blog should be helpful to you in terms of understanding your duties and responsibilities. It should also give you an idea of the types of situations you may be faced with in this important role. The best way to handle the job is to work closely with a skilled estate planning attorney. In Southeastern Massachusetts and on Cape Cod, contacting Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. at the outset is a smart move. 

Duties of a Personal Representative

How demanding the job will be depends on the size and complexity of the estate. For example, if the estate is of high net worth or if there are several properties, businesses, or collections involved, your duties as personal representative are likely to be more time-consuming and may require more research. That’s why it’s wise to have one of our experienced estate planning lawyers at your side as you:

  • File a copy of the will with the local probate court
  • Notify all interested parties of the death, not only heirs and other beneficiaries but banks, credit card companies, the Social Security Administration, etc.
  • Create an estate bank account to receive incoming funds and pay final bills
  • Make a complete inventory of estate assets and have necessary items appraised
  • Settle outstanding debts
  • Pay estate taxes, if applicable
  • File the decedent’s annual tax return 
  • Distribute assets to named beneficiaries, but only once all debts have been paid

As a personal representative, you are a fiduciary and legally liable for mistakes and unaccountable loss of funds. This makes it imperative to have a detail-oriented attorney check your work.

Situations Personal Representatives Should Be Prepared to Deal With

Having a knowledgeable attorney to advise and guide you is especially helpful if you have to deal with unexpected complications, such as:

  • Impatient or angry beneficiaries who are eagerly looking for their inheritance 
  • Beneficiaries who accuse you of inefficiency, incompetence, or misconduct
  • Family members who contest the will
  • Mistakes you have made that must be corrected
  • Lawsuits that may, if lost at trial, use up a large portion of the estate 

It is important to remember that being an executor may be more stressful and/or time-consuming than you imagined in which case you may well be glad for assistance by your attorney in matters involving the Social Security Administration or the filing of documents. Our law team is well-practiced in resolving logistical and bureaucratic issues.

You should also be aware that being a personal representative is voluntary: you may decide you are not up to the task or don’t have the requisite time to handle the job properly. It is also possible that you are too grief-stricken to think clearly. In any case, you are free to turn down the position. For this reason, anyone engaged in planning their estate should name an alternate when designating a personal representative.

The Takeaway

Being a personal representative should not be undertaken lightly or without the guidance and support of an experienced estate planning attorney. If you are considering taking on this role, contact our legal team today. We will be happy to answer all your questions and assist you in any way we can.