By Alexis Levitt, Esq.
Yes, you can. And yes, being an executor—now called a personal representative—is definitely a lot of work. If you’ve hired an attorney, she will handle all the court documents, but there is still plenty of non-legal work for the personal representative to do.
Various tasks that a personal representative does include: go to the banks to close accounts; open an estate checking account; cancel health insurance; go through the decedent’s filing cabinets and desk to understand what accounts they have and where; meet with the attorney; read and review the court forms that the attorney prepares; clean out a house and handle the sale; turn off utilities, and more. The time can really add up.
As personal representative, keep a journal of your time spent. This could be a notebook you keep in your car, an excel spreadsheet on your computer… whatever method works for you. Jot down the date, the activity, and how long it took. Do this from the beginning, even if you are sure you don’t want to take payment from the estate. As the work mounts up and grinds on, you may change your mind.
How much can you charge? Typically, $35-$50 per hour for “legwork.” If you happen to be using your profession to benefit the estate (ex., if you are also the CPA handling the tax returns), then you can charge your professional rate for that particular activity.
Remember that your lawyer’s office can handle many of the non-legal tasks for you (ex., communicating with banks) or can make recommendations to other professionals (ex., house cleanouts). That will end up costing the estate more, of course, but do keep it in mind as an option if you don’t have time for these tasks, are wearing thin, or feel like you are losing your mind.
Bottom line? Being a personal representative is a lot of work. Keep a record of your time spent, even if you start out not planning to charge the estate. And if you’d like some help, ask your lawyer what parts she and her staff can take on and for referrals to other professionals.
About the Author: Alexis Levitt practices elder law, special needs planning, estate planning, and veteran’s benefits. She sits on the board of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and represents it on the Massachusetts Coalition for Serious Illness Care. Alexis also sat on the board of the Norwell Council on Aging. Her office is in Norwell. You can reach her at (781) 740-7269 or visit her website and blog for more information at www.alexislevitt.com.