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What do you need to know about personal representatives?

Whether you have a will or not, when you die, someone has to take over the duties related to legally closing your Massachusetts estate (unless all your assets are jointly owned or distributed to beneficiaries named in, for example, life insurance policies, retirement accounts or trusts). This estate administrator, known as your personal representative, has many responsibilities while probating your estate. 

According to, these include the following:

  • Establishing that there is a valid will, if relevant
  • Managing your assets and property until the probate process is complete
  • Changing the ownership of any real estate and other property that is solely in your name
  • Paying your debts
  • Acquiring your medical records
  • Filing and paying the taxes of your estate

The personal representative must generally be able to complete probate within three years of your death, unless the administration is voluntary, there are problems determining who your heirs are or you have property in another state that must be probated there.

Your personal representative is appointed by the court. To be appointed, the person has to be qualified to perform the probate duties. If you name someone in your will, that person has legal priority, and the court is likely to appoint him or her after first ensuring that your will is valid. If you do not name someone, or if you do not have a will, your spouse is the person with priority, and next in line would be your heirs.

This information may be useful to you as you consider who you want to act as your personal representative. However, it is a general overview only, and should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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