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When can families remove or replace a personal representative?

On Behalf of | Sep 10, 2023 | Estate Planning |

The personal representative of a Massachusetts estate has a lot of different responsibilities to fulfill. They need to locate someone’s testamentary documents and secure their resources. They need to submit paperwork to the Massachusetts probate courts and attend hearings when required.

Their efforts can have a profound impact on the overall value of an estate and on what specific individuals inherit. Usually, families are grateful that there is someone to manage the estate, but occasionally there are concerns that the personal representative has put their own needs ahead of what is best for the estate’s beneficiaries or that their incompetence or inaction might diminish an estate’s assets.

Families can file paperwork to seek a hearing

Occasionally, the personal representative tasked with estate administration will readily admit that they cannot fulfill their responsibilities. They might agree to step down from their position and have someone else take over in that role. If they will not cooperate, then it may be necessary to take the matter to probate court. Family members and others with a provable interest in the state can file paperwork with the Massachusetts courts to ask for the removal of a personal representative.

Those making the request will usually need some amount of evidence affirming that the representative has failed to take necessary steps, caused losses due to delays or incompetence, embezzled from the estate or otherwise breached their fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries. Proof of self-dealing or significant deviations from the instructions provided in the estate planning paperwork that could help those seeking the removal of a representative establish that they have grounds for doing so.

A judge will look over the situation carefully and can remove a representative who has failed to fulfill their responsibilities or violated the fiduciary duty that they have to the beneficiaries of the estate. After removing a personal representative who has failed in their job, the courts can then appoint a new representative. In some cases, it may also be possible to hold a representative responsible for any funds that they misappropriated from the estate.

The person tasked with estate administration is in a position to intentionally or unintentionally cost an estate money instead of generating more revenue for its beneficiaries. When this happens, holding a personal representative accountable for their failings or misconduct by removing them from their position can potentially help to protect the inheritance rights of those expecting to receive assets from an estate.