Most people don’t beg and clamor to be named as executor in someone’s will. The position is called a personal representative in Massachusetts, and it's a tough, often thankless, job involving multiple tasks and deadlines. Massachusetts law recognizes that personal representatives are entitled to compensation, but the state’s code doesn’t set out definitive rules for what that compensation should be. Fees must be approved by the court.
Interaction With Beneficiaries
One of the most important responsibilities an executor has in any state involves interacting with the deceased’s beneficiaries. Besides his numerous procedural duties, an executor must make himself available to those involved in the estate proceedings, answering their questions and addressing any concerns they may have as promptly as possible. When all the requirements of probate have been met and the estate is ready to close, the executor must distribute bequests of the deceased’s property to those named in the will. Massachusetts law allows personal representatives to make early distributions of property to beneficiaries before the estate settles, but if he does so and the estate comes up short without sufficient property or funds to pay the deceased’s debts and taxes, he can be held personally liable for these bills.
Inventory of Assets
A personal representative is tasked with identifying and locating all the deceased’s assets. He must keep the property safe and secure during the probate process, and this may mean keeping up with insurance premiums so no property is lost. Cash assets, such as cash on hand or in bank accounts, are typically placed in one or more accounts in the estate’s name to pay for premiums, other liabilities and the expenses of operating the estate. The personal representative must prepare an inventory of all assets and submit it to the court.
Read More: How to Compile an Inventory of Assets for Probate Purposes
Estate Taxes and Debts
Creditors have a year to make claims for payment, so the personal representative will serve for at least this long; the estate can’t close until each of the deceased’s debts has been addressed. In addition to paying for the costs of administration of the estate and the deceased’s creditors, the personal representative might also have to deal with estate taxes. Massachusetts is one of several states that imposes its own estate tax, so the personal representative may have to prepare this return and pay any tax due if the estate is large enough to owe it.
Payment for Services
In exchange for all this, the personal representative has the right to request “reasonable compensation.” He can’t simply submit an invoice to the court, citing an amount that he believes is fair. The court requires a detailed record of his time spent working on the estate. He can’t submit that he worked for three hours on Nov. 3. He must explain to the court what he did during those three hours. The personal representative can request his own hourly rate, and it can vary depending on the nature of each specific task. He would probably charge more for preparing a tax return than for writing a check for an insurance premium from the estate account. The court weighs the requested rates against how complicated the estate was to settle.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.