Posted on Jan 27, 2023


Estate Planning: 3 Common Questions About Executors

First and foremost, what is an executor?  An executor is a person or entity you choose to carry out your last wishes outlined in your will. They will be responsible for probating your estate and distributing your assets pursuant to your Will. This ensures someone you trust will handle the estate in the manner you intended. In Massachusetts, the executor is now called a personal representative. If it is a female, it may also be referred to as the executrix. Your executor should be someone you know is responsible enough to manage your estate after you pass away. 

When it comes to estate planning, choosing an executor is a big and important decision. Here are answers to the three most common questions about executors and choosing the right one.

Can an Executor Decide Who Gets What? 

No, in most circumstances, an executor cannot decide who gets what property. Executors are responsible for carrying out the testator’s wishes as outlined in the Will. 

However, if the testator (the person who made the Will) did not distribute all their assets in their Will, the executor may be able to decide how to distribute the unassigned property. 

Can an Executor of a Will Be a Beneficiary? 

Yes. An executor can also be a beneficiary of the Will. It is common for people to have their surviving spouse or children act as the executor of their estate, but you are able to name the executor a beneficiary in your Will. Just because they are named executors, does not mean they can not be entitled to assets of the estate. This decision can be cost-effective if you have a simple estate.

Another benefit of having a family member act as the executor of your estate is they are familiar with your wishes. They know you, and they understand how you want your assets divided. If you forget to state where your property goes in your Will, an executor that knows you well is more likely to give those assets to the correct beneficiaries.

How Long Does the Executor Have to Pay the Beneficiaries? 

It depends. The executor should work diligently to get each beneficiary paid as soon as possible. 

While the executor is responsible for ensuring beneficiaries receive the money or property they were left in the Will, the probate process may delay beneficiaries from receiving a payout. Depending on the size of the estate and the debts and taxes the estate owes, it may take anywhere from six months to more than one year for a beneficiary to receive an inheritance. 

Every personal estate is unique, so the probate process will differ slightly from one person to another. In general, however, the process in Massachusetts is as follows:

  • A petition is filed with the proper probate court.
  • A notice is issued to heirs named in the Will or to statutory heirs if no Will exists.
  • A petition is filed for the court to appoint the executor named in the Will or an administrator for the estate if no Will exists.
  • The executor or estate administrator conducts an inventory and appraisal of estate assets.
  • Any debts held by the estate are paid to rightful creditors.
  • Estate assets are sold, if necessary.
  • Estate taxes, if applicable, are paid.
  • Assets are distributed to heirs.

It can take anywhere from a few months to over a year to probate a simple estate, but complications can arise. It is not uncommon for someone to object, or "contest," to the Will at some point during the probate process, which can mean lengthy and expensive litigation. If several versions of a Will exist or family members dispute their share of an inheritance, the probate process will become much more complicated.

Read the news article by Elder Law Answers here.

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Creating a complete estate plan can be overwhelming. With the help of our experienced estate planning attorneys, you can ease some of the anxieties you may have about doing your estate plan. You will be surprised at how painless our process is and how much better you will feel after getting it done. There is no better time to plan for the future than now!

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