Questions About the Executor of a Will in Massachusetts

By Beverly Bird

If you leave a last will and testament, it is customary that in addition to bequeathing your assets, you will name an executor, someone to oversee the process of settling your estate. If you neglect to name someone or if you die intestate, without a will, the court will appoint an executor. According to Susan Mooney, an attorney in Stoneham, Massachusetts, many people choose their spouse or a close friend for the job without considering the level of work involved or the skills that might be required.

If you leave a last will and testament, it is customary that in addition to bequeathing your assets, you will name an executor, someone to oversee the process of settling your estate. If you neglect to name someone or if you die intestate, without a will, the court will appoint an executor. According to Susan Mooney, an attorney in Stoneham, Massachusetts, many people choose their spouse or a close friend for the job without considering the level of work involved or the skills that might be required.

What Does an Executor Do?

An executor starts by gathering up and accounting for any assets you have left behind, according to Bernard J.Hamill, a lawyer with offices in Quincy. In Massachusetts, she is responsible for providing an inventory of everything to the court. This includes insurance policies, retirement funds and investment accounts, as well as automobiles, real estate and personal effects of any value. If your estate is entitled to any death benefits, she applies for them. She will open bank accounts to collect the insurance proceeds, as well as any other money payable to your estate from interest or dividends. She is responsible for paying all creditors, estate taxes and other expenses from that account. If anyone contests the will, she must hire an attorney from this account to protect your estate. She will file tax returns, both for your estate and for you personally for income you received up until the time of your death. She will cancel your credit cards and other accounts in your sole name. And when all is said and done, she will disburse your remaining assets to your selected beneficiaries.

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What If the Executor Doesn't Want the Job?

Under Section 5 of Chapter 192 of Massachusetts’ General Laws, an executor does not have to serve if he doesn’t want to. If he refuses, or if 20 days pass after the will enters probate and he does nothing toward meeting his responsibilities, the court can transfer the executorship to someone else who is willing.

Does an Executor Get Paid for His Work?

Yes, but how much is open to interpretation. Massachusetts law provides only that the executor be reimbursed for reasonable out-of-pocket expenses incurred while doing her job and be compensated for her services “as the court may allow.” There is no set amount or percentage, according to the Forum for Massachusetts Law. Ideally, the decedent states in his will exactly what compensation his executor will receive. If he doesn’t and the beneficiaries can’t agree, then a judge decides what is reasonable.

What Keeps an Executor From Using Estate Assets for Personal Gain?

Unless your will specifically excuses your executor from doing so, he must post a bond with sureties with the court when he takes the position. According to Linda L. Saracusa, an attorney in North Andover, either another individual with sufficient assets or a corporation posts this bond, essentially stating that if the executor is guilty of any malfeasance, they, too, will be held responsible and can be sued along with the executor. If an individual makes the sureties, he must be a Massachusetts resident. When a corporation does it, a fee is charged. A bond with sureties is essentially an insurance policy equal to one-and-a-half times the estimated dollar amount of the estate.

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Responsibilities of a Will Executor in Massachusetts

Under the General Laws of Massachusetts, a will is submitted to probate court once someone has died. If the will names an executor, the court gives that person “letters testamentary,” which allow him to act on behalf of the deceased’s estate. He then has 30 days within which to post a bond, which is essentially an insurance policy guaranteeing that he will not use his position for any illegal or unethical purposes. Sometimes a will specifically waives the bond requirement, usually in cases where the estate is small and the deceased had few assets.

Role of Will Executor

The executor of a will, also known as the personal representative, is the person who will carry out the instructions in your will when you die, according to FindLaw. The executor is responsible for wrapping up the affairs of your estate, including filing the will with the probate court, paying any debts, distributing the estate's assets and defending the validity of your will if it is challenged, according to FindLaw.

What Happens if the Executor Does Not Turn in Probate Papers on Time?

When you choose an executor -- the individual you want to handle your estate throughout the probate process -- it’s essential to exercise good character judgment. While you might trust a person implicitly, and even love her with all your heart if she’s a family member, the fact that she’s trustworthy won’t expeditiously and neatly settle your estate. The job usually demands that a person be exceptionally detail-oriented and organized as well. If these traits aren’t your chosen executor’s strong suits, you might be leaving your beneficiaries with a headache.

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