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Five Things to Know Before Becoming an Executor of an Estate

POSTED ON: May 3, 2021

older woman estate planning

Being an executor of a loved one’s estate is an important position. If you’re considering being someone’s executor, you need to know these five things: 

You’re Allowed to Hire Professionals to Help with the Work 

Many people use the services of a Massachusetts estate planning lawyer and an accountant to take care of the day-to-day legal and tax work of administering an estate. If you decide to do so, the estate will pay the fees of those professionals. Even if you prefer to try to handle the legal and tax work of the estate on your own, you still might need to hire professional appraisers and others. 

Serving as an Executor Takes a Great Deal of Time 

The work of an executor can easily take a year or longer. If you do this on your own, you’ll likely have several court appearances. The court will require you to prepare lengthy and detailed financial reports. You’ll have to prepare an income tax return on behalf of the decedent and estate tax returns for every calendar year or part of the year that the estate remains open. 

If the deceased person was a close relative, you might also be dealing with other time-consuming tasks, like cleaning out the decedent’s house and getting it ready to sell it. Adding the duties of an estate executor to those tasks and your everyday commitments, like working a job and maintaining a household, can leave you feeling overwhelmed. 

The Court Will Expect You to Educate Yourself 

It’s not the judge’s job to educate executors about how to do their duties. Judges have massive caseloads and don’t have the time to give tutorials on probate court rules, deadlines, and procedures. You’ll be expected to learn all of these items on your own or you can  hire an estate planning lawyer who already knows how to administer an estate.  

You Must Act in the Best Interests of the Decedent’s Estate 

You must put the interests of the estate ahead of your own interests or other loved ones. This obligation means that you should avoid conflicts of interest and any conduct that could cause the estate to sustain a financial loss. It can be challenging to serve as an executor when you have to take actions to benefit the estate instead of, for example, your child.  

You Can Be Personally Liable if You Make Certain Mistakes 

Depending on the facts of the situation, an executor can get subjected to personal financial liability for making mistakes when handling the estate. Here are some examples of errors that executors should avoid: 

  • Failing to notify heirs when required to do so 
  • Distributing money and other assets before paying all valid claims of creditors 
  • Missing deadlines 
  • Not following the terms of the will 
  • Failing to file tax returns on behalf of the decedent and estate 

These are just a few examples of mistakes that an executor can make.

You should also know that if someone named you in their will as their executor, you’re allowed to decline the role. The law doesn’t force you to fulfill this function.

As a Massachusetts estate planning attorney, I can help you avoid problems like these. So, if you become the executor of an estate, call us at 617.299.6976 or contact us using this online form to schedule a free consultation to discuss how we can help you.