A named executor of a will holds a lot of power and responsibility over a Massachusetts estate. An executor’s tasks can go beyond distributing the testator’s assets. He or she can also manage trust funds or file and defend lawsuits on behalf of the estate. A recent appellate court case, In The Matter of the Estate of Elizabeth Lawry (15-P-374), looks at the obligations an executor has to the estate and its heirs. The executor appealed a ruling made at trial, in which the court ordered the executor to return $20,000 of his $30,000 fee to the estate, as well as pay $7,500 in attorneys’ fees.
Under a Massachusetts law, G.L. C. 190b, § 3-720, a personal representative of an estate who defends or prosecutes a proceeding in good faith is entitled to receive the necessary expenses and disbursements from the estate, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, regardless of whether or not the action is successful. However, a personal representative is also expected to act in good faith. Without this, the entitlement to attorneys’ fees becomes void. At trial, the judge looked at the overall picture of the executor’s performance of his duties. The judge ultimately did not feel that the executor acted in good faith because he did not record the time he spent settling the estate consistently with due diligence, charged a higher fee because the beneficiaries did not get along, made several mistakes while handling the estate, and caused unnecessary delays with the distribution of the assets.
One of the duties mentioned by the trial court in its order awarding the heirs attorneys’ fees was the duty to settle the estate expeditiously and efficiently. The court also looked at the excessive fee the executor paid himself. While an executor is entitled to attorneys’ fees for litigation, the court pointed out it was the executor’s own conduct that led to the litigation, so it was only fair that he pay the expenses of the litigation rather than the estate. The Court of Appeals agreed with this analysis and did not find any abuse of discretion on behalf of the trial court judge. The reduction of the executor’s fees and the award of the heirs’ attorneys’ fees was upheld.
When you draft a will and choose an executor, you want to feel comfortable that the estate will be distributed fairly without a lot of issues. The Massachusetts estate planning attorneys at Karsner & Meehan can help you weigh all the many considerations you have as a testator. Personal representatives hold a position of great responsibility and trust, and we encourage you to review a named executor, attorney-in-fact, health care proxy, trustee, guardian, or conservator every few years to ensure your choice is the best one. Our lawyers have the experience you need, whether drafting or reviewing your estate plans, and we are available for a free, confidential consultation at 508.822.6600.
More Blog Posts:
Appeals Court of Massachusetts Case Reveals The Difficulty People Face When Contesting a Will, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, March 3, 2016
Rear-end Collision Appellate Case Helps Illustrate Burden of Proof Considerations in Massachusetts Personal Injury Cases, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, February 3, 2016