Choosing an Adult Child as Your Personal Representative

Creating a Will requires many important decisions.  One of the most significant is naming a Personal Representative (PR) to manage and settle your estate after you pass.  The responsibilities of a PR (sometime referred to as an Executor or Executrix) are significant, including making decisions about how your assets are managed and distributed to your beneficiaries, decide which expenses to pay, and managing your estate through the probate court.   The person you select as your PR is responsible for making sure your wishes are followed.

When naming a PR, parents often don’t want to play favorites.  In order to keep the peace, two or more family members are sometimes name as co-PRs.  It is understandable that a parent may want to treat all their children the same or think naming them together will bring them closer…but resist the temptation.  This is not the time or place.  Naming co-PRs is setting your loved ones up for conflict and, possibly, many years of resentment.

The issue is if co-PRs are named in a Will, all of them must act in unison.  Often times, tough decisions need to be made to settle debts or sell assets.  Because they must agree and act together, such as signing property deeds or vehicle titles to transfer ownership, this can cause unnecessary delays…especially if one of the PRs lives out of state.  Banks and financial institutions will be more difficult work with and may require each PR to sign off on any action related to your accounts.

Having one person administer your estate is important because probating in Massachusetts can be costly and time consuming – even in the best of circumstances.  When there are disagreements, additional hearings and delays in Probate Court are typically needed to resolve the issue.  Your hard-earned assets accumulated over a lifetime are now being drained with a likely outcome that everyone will get less.   Even more problematic is the emotional toll it might have on your loved ones.

The better solution is to name one person and to communicate that choice to everyone.  After all, it is your wishes and desires that need to be respected and followed.  It’s also a good practice to name a successor PR as a back-up, in case the first person is unable or unwilling to handle the probate.  There are some limited situations where it might make sense to name co-PRs.  If your spouse is elderly or disabled and you’re worried that probating your estate would be too much, then it might warrant adding a child as a co-PR to make sure the estate is probated competently.   But, if this is truly a worry, skipping your spouse and going directly to your child (or subsequent PR) and allowing him or her to act alone is almost always the better choice.

If you find choosing among your children to take the role of PR is too difficult, another option would be to have your Attorney or a trusted family friend in this role.  If your estate is especially complicated or might have a business to manage and/or sell, it might be well worth the time and expense to consider this route.  With offices in Acton and Sudbury, our probate and estate planning attorneys are experienced in making sure your wishes are followed and family harmony is maintained.

For help in having the conversation about your estate planning decisions with your family, download our eBook: “Life Conversations With Your Adult Children” or call our office 978-263-0006 for a copy to be mailed to you.