The Difference Between Executor, Trustee & Guardian

What is the difference between an executor, a trustee, and a guardian? Each of these estate administration roles plays an integral part in the Massachusetts probate process. The person creating his or her will is known as the testator. A testator names an executor in his or her will. The executor has a legal duty to administer the testator’s estate, making sure that the beneficiaries receive the assets of the estate, according to the will. A trustee is an individual appointed to administer a trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the trust. Finally, a guardian is appointed to make decisions for an incapacitated adult or a minor child. 

If you’ve learned that someone appointed you as an executor, trustee, or guardian, you may have questions about your new role. At Surprenant & Beneski, PC, we help clients understand their duties as executors, trustees, or guardians. With our busy lifestyles, meeting all of the requirements of these roles can be challenging. Consulting with skilled estate administration attorneys can help you fulfill your duties effectively. Contact our law firm today to schedule your initial consultation with any one of our three office locations in New Bedford, Easton, or Hyannis. 

The Important Role of Massachusetts Estate Executor

Estate executors are responsible for administering the estate of the deceased individual. The estate includes all of the personal and real property owned by the deceased individual. Should you decide to agree to your appointment as an estate administrator, you will become part of the Massachusetts probate process. 

The end goal is to distribute the assets of the estate to the beneficiaries named in the will. Estate executors have a legal duty to act in the best interest of the deceased individual and the beneficiaries who will inherit the assets of the estate. 

Practically speaking, estate executors are responsible for taking the following actions on behalf of the estate:

  • Filing the probate court paperwork
  • Overseeing the probate process
  • Managing the assets of the deceased
  • Providing notice to creditors and the beneficiaries of the estate
  • Paying the bills of the estate and creditors of the estate
  • Defending the will against the validity of the will and lawsuits

Can an Appointed Executor Decline the Role?

Yes, just because someone appointed you to act as an estate executor does not mean that you must serve as the executor. You do have the option to decline to serve as an executor. When executors refuse to serve as executors, a Massachusetts probate court will appoint another executor. Many people agree to serve as the executor because they hope to honor the wishes of their deceased friend or loved ones. 

The Role of a Trustee in Southeastern Massachusetts

The role of a trustee is different than the role of an estate executor. An executor manages a deceased person’s estate to distribute his or her assets according to the will. A trustee, on the other hand, is responsible for administering a trust. A trust is a legal arrangement in which one or more trustees hold the legal title of the property for the benefit of the beneficiaries. The beneficiaries are the recipients of the trust’s assets. It is an honor for a friend or loved one to appoint a person as a trustee. Nonetheless, many of our clients who’ve become trustees have questions about what their role will entail. 

Trusts become legally binding arrangements after the signing of a trust agreement. Massachusetts law recognizes many different types of trusts. Trusts can be revocable, irrevocable, or charitable. However, the purpose of all trusts is to preserve the assets for the benefit of the beneficiaries. The creator of the trust can state that the beneficiaries receive assets overtime, upon his or her death, or when the beneficiaries reach a certain age. 

Trustees have the responsibility of managing the assets with the best interest of the beneficiaries in mind. Trustees owe the beneficiaries a fiduciary duty. As part of the fiduciary duty, trustees have a legal obligation to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries at all times. The responsibilities of the trustee in Massachusetts include the following:

  • Locating the trust assets
  • Protecting the assets of the trust
  • Keeping accounts of the assets, liabilities, and creditors of the trust
  • Filing taxes on behalf of the trust
  • Distributing assets to the beneficiaries according to the trust agreement

Guardianship of a Child or Children in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, courts will appoint a guardian of incapacitated adults and minors under certain circumstances. In many instances, parents nominate a guardian for their children upon their deaths in their will. When a child’s parents are mentally unfit or unable to care for a minor child, an adult may file a Petition for Guardianship. Similarly, a qualified adult may petition the court to become the guardian of an incapacitated adult. Courts have the authority to appoint guardians for adults who are incapacitated, disabled, mentally incompetent, or suffering from a disability that makes them unable to make their own decisions. 

A guardian is responsible for making decisions and managing the affairs of a minor child or an incapacitated adult. Guardians have a wide range of decision-making authority; thus, courts hold guardians to high standards. The guardian must prove that he or she is fit to serve as the legal guardian of the child or incapacitated adult. The prospective guardian must also pass a criminal background check. If you would like to become the guardian of a child or incapacitated adult, the lawyers at Surprenant & Beneski, PC can help. We can advise you as to whether or not a guardianship might be a legally appropriate option to help you care for your loved one or friend. 

Our Estate Administration Attorneys Can Help

Providing estate administration services is a significant focus of the lawyers at Surprenant & Beneski, PC. Whether someone has appointed you as an estate executor, trustee, or guardian, you are not alone. Our attorneys have helped guide many clients in their roles. Executors, trustees, and guardians must meet the requirements set forth by Massachusetts law. Contact our law firm today to schedule your initial consultation and learn how we can help you through the estate administration process.