In Massachusetts, a personal representative is the person who has the legal responsibility of taking care of the property of a decedent. An executor and administrator are types of personal representatives. Because the role of the personal representative is often taken on by a close relative of the decedent such as their spouse, child, or sibling, some assume that it is not a paid position. However, it is a paid position. In fact, as an experienced Massachusetts executor commission lawyer can explain, under Massachusetts law personal representatives are entitled to receive payment for services rendered. Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. § 3-719
Personal Representative Duties and Responsibilities
Under Massachusetts law, the personal representative’s job is to settle a decedent’s estate and to distribute estate assets. Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. § 3-703. This may seem straightforward and uncomplicated. Generally, it is. However, the work of a personal representative is time-consuming and can be challenging. In performing their tasks, they must gain an understanding of Massachusetts law related to estates and probate. Because the Probate Court has jurisdiction over probate matters in Massachusetts, the personal representative is answerable to the Probate Court judge and must follow orders of the court.
The general tasks that a personal representative must complete include securing and managing the decedent’s property, paying the decedent’s debts and expenses of administration, and distributing the decedent’s assets to their beneficiaries and heirs.
Complications that may arise include probate disputes that lead to litigation include having to manage the decedent’s small business, or complex tax issues. When complications occur, the administration process may take longer, and the personal representative is required to spend more time and do more work. In such instances, it is important to have an experienced Massachusetts executor commission lawyer on your team.
Personal Representative Compensation
The general standard for the amount of compensation to which a personal representative is entitled is “reasonable.” To receive payment, the personal representative must submit a bill to the court for approval. If the court determines that the amount requested is reasonable, it will approve it. As an experienced executor commission attorney in Massachusetts can explain, there are 3 places for the court to look to determine reasonableness: the decedent’s will, a contract between the personal representative and the decedent, and the Massachusetts’ statute. Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. § 3-719
Will. It may come as a surprise to some that not only can a testator nominate the person they want to serve as their personal representative, they can also state how much that person is to be paid. If there is a will, the compensation provided in the will governs. The will may provide a specific amount, or it may give a formula for determining compensation such as a percentage of the value of the estate’s probate assets. Or, the testator may provide another way of determining compensation.
Note that the personal representative is not required to accept the compensation provided for in the will. They can renounce it and instead opt to receive “reasonable compensation” as required by the statute.
Contract. In some instances the testator and personal representative negotiate a contract that specifies the amount of the compensation.
Statute. If the decedent did not leave a will, if the decedent did not provide for compensation in their will, if the personal representative rejected the compensation required by the will, or if decedent did not execute a contract with the personal representative that included a term related to compensation, then under Massachusetts law the personal representative would be entitled to reasonable compensation. Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. § 3-719
As an experienced executor commission attorney serving Massachusetts will explaine, while the statute does not specify how reasonableness is to be determined, courts have taken into consideration the following factors:
- Nature of the work involved. The court will look at the type of work that the personal representative was required to handle. If the work required a greater amount of skill or effort than generally required, the court will take that into consideration. For example, if the personal representative is required to manage the decedent’s small business, deal with difficult family members, or initiate or respond to litigation, then they would likely approve a higher fee because of the complexity of the work involved.
- Compensation routinely charged. The court will look at fee that personal representatives typically receive for comparable work for an estate in the same geographic area.
- Size and complexity of the estate. Managing a relatively small estate will take less time, less work, and less skill than managing a large estate will complex assets.
- Experience and capabilities of the personal representative. The court will look at the skill and experience of the personal representative. A first-time personal representative would likely receive a lower fee than an experienced personal representative who also was a financial advisor or accountant.