Responsibilities of a Will Executor in Massachusetts

By Beverly Bird

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.

Preparing for Probate

If you have been named as the executor of someone's will, have an attorney review the will and advise you just what you can or cannot do on the estate’s behalf. Most wills specify this. You will need several copies of the death certificate in your possession to provide to insurance companies and other entities that might hold the deceased's assets. Open a bank account for the estate and purchase a small ledger for yourself so you can keep track of any expenses you might pay out of your own pocket. In all likelihood, the estate will reimburse you later.

Collecting Liquid Assets

A liquid asset is one that is in cash form and does not have to be sold or “liquidated” to raise funds for the estate like real estate or automobiles would be. Liquid assets include checking, saving and investment accounts but could also be debts or rents owed to the deceased at the time of his death. When the estate enters the probate process, it is the executor’s responsibility to collect them if they exist and place the funds in the estate's bank account. The executor should also contact the deceased’s employer to find out if there are any death benefits due the estate. If the deceased had life insurance, the executor must find out if his estate is the beneficiary or if he specifically designated an heir. If he designated an heir, the proceeds bypass probate. Otherwise, the executor is in charge of collecting the payment and placing it in the estate’s bank account.

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Preserving Nonliquid Assets

Next, an executor must secure all nonliquid assets. This process starts with taking an inventory of what the deceased owned, then placing everything of value in a safe deposit box or a similar safe location. If any of the items are insured, the executor should also make sure policies are current because it is his responsibility to make sure they do not lapse.

Paying Debts, Expenses and Beneficiaries

Once all assets are identified and liquid funds are accumulated in the estate’s account, an executor begins disbursing everything. The deceased’s creditors must be paid whatever she owed them when she died. Tax returns must be filed, both on behalf of the estate as well as the deceased’s personal returns, and any taxes due must be paid. If any nonliquid assets have to be sold to do this, it is the executor’s responsibility to oversee the process. When all debts, taxes and expenses of the estate -- such as appraisal fees and court costs -- have been paid, the executor distributes the remainder of the estate to the deceased’s beneficiaries. It is a good idea to get receipts from the beneficiaries, acknowledging that they got their bequests.

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What Are the Steps to Probate a Will?


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How to Distribute the Assets of a Living Trust After Death

Closing a trust after the grantor’s death is much like probating his will. When a decedent leaves a will, he names an executor to gather his assets and disperse them to his named beneficiaries. When he leaves a trust, the person he names as successor trustee does the same thing. The major difference is that a well-planned trust does not have to pay the decedent’s debts first. They’re usually paid by his probate estate from the cash and assets he did not transfer to his trust during his lifetime.

Who Pays Probate: the Estate or a Beneficiary?

The beneficiaries, or those named in a decedent's will, are often anxious to receive their inheritances, but an estate must often be administered through a court proceeding referred to as probate. During the probate process, the court works in conjunction with the person managing the estate, called the executor or personal representative, to value the decedent's assets and pay off the his creditors. Beneficiaries are often concerned as to whether they are required to pay those debts, or whether the debts are paid by the estate. It is the estate that is liable for the decedent’s debts; however, those debts may include more than just the decedent’s creditors.

Can the Beneficiary Be the Executor of a Will?

Most states do not have any laws against a beneficiary in a will also serving as the executor, or the person charged with overseeing the probate process. In fact, the situation is not uncommon. However, there are several practical considerations to take into account if you name an executor who will also inherit under the terms of your will.

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