The Heritage Law Center routinely helps individuals and families navigate probate administration in Middlesex, Essex, and Suffolk counties in Massachusetts. Beyond having outstanding credentials, a wellspring of pertinent knowledge, and experience with many different types of estate planning cases, our team is committed to providing compassionate guidance.
We know how difficult it is to deal with the emotional distress following the death of a loved one. We also know that sometimes it’s the logistical matters — like probate — that put the situation over the top for the grieving family. Our goal is to take care of all legal matters surrounding the death and to support you going forward. Why not contact us today for a free, confidential consultation?
What Exactly is Probate?
Probate is the court-supervised procedure during which a will is validated so that the assets of the deceased can be distributed as the will directs. If the deceased died intestate (without a will), assets will be distributed according to the laws of intestacy. Probate also verifies who the personal representative (“executor”) will be as stated in the will or, if there’s no will, the court will appoint a personal representative (also known as an “administrator”).
In Massachusetts, probate typically takes about 12-18 months to allow time for creditors to make claims. The process takes longer if there is any argument about asset distribution or if the will is contested. Probate expenses include executor’s fees, attorney’s fees, accounting fees, court fees, appraisal costs, and surety bonds.
What Assets Go Through Probate?
Assets that must go through probate are those that are owned only by the decedent (person who passed away). They include the following:
- Any real property that’s solely held in the deceased person’s name or held as tenant in common (in this case, the decedent’s share passes to their heirs or as outlined by their will)
- Personal property like furniture, family heirlooms, and cars (as long as only the deceased person’s name is on the car’s title)
- Bank accounts that are held only in the decedent’s name
- Life insurance policies and brokerage accounts that list the deceased person only or the estate as the beneficiary
What Does the Personal Representative Do?
The individual will be tasked with:
- Filing a petition with the county probate court.
- Petitioning to appoint a personal representative (if there’s a will) or administrator of the estate.
- Sending out formal notices to heirs and beneficiaries to give them the opportunity to review, challenge, or contest the will.
- Sending a notice to known creditors and posting a public notice to creditors to alert them to the situation so they can make their claims.
- Gathering the deceased’s assets, inventorying them, and getting appraisals for them.
- Selling estate assets.
- Paying all remaining taxes and debts.
- Transferring assets to the designated beneficiaries or as intestacy law dictates.
- Keeping careful and complete records of how estate assets are distributed.
- Keeping the assets of the estate safe.
Probate can feel like an overwhelming process. Our skilled probate attorney and team will be there to guide you every step of the way and help with items like:
- Locating and securing probate assets and non-probate assets
- Obtaining date of death values and appraisals of the decedent’s property
- Preparing and filing documents required by the probate court in a timely manner
- Collecting life insurance proceeds
- Rolling over and making appropriate elections with regard to retirement plans, including IRAs and 401(k)s
- Advising on the payment of the decedent’s final bills and outstanding debts
- Keeping track of the estate ‘s checking account
- Determining if any federal or state estate taxes and/or inheritance taxes will be due, and if so, then figuring out where the cash will come from to pay the taxes
- Addressing income tax issues
- Settling disputes among personal representatives and beneficiaries
- Assisting with the sale of estate property
- Requesting court permission for different actions as required by state probate laws
- Retitling the real estate into the names of the estate beneficiaries if it’s not being sold
- Distributing the remaining estate assets to the beneficiaries after bills and taxes are paid
The Heritage Law Center Most Often Plans to Avoid Probate
As estate planning professionals, we usually assist clients in avoiding probate altogether, typically by establishing living trusts. We do this to protect families from the costs and delays inherent in the process, especially when the estate is a substantial one. In most cases, clients who come to us without such trusts in place at the time of death, do have to go through probate. Nonetheless, our well-developed skills will smooth their way.
Grateful clients whom we have guided through probate for their parents or others often come back to us to do a more thorough estate plan for their own future. Having been through the complications of probate, they understand the reasons it may be more practical to plan to avoid probate for the next generation.
Other Ways, Besides Living Trusts, that Probate Can Be Avoided
Assets may also escape the probate process if they are:
- Property owned in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship.
- Retirement accounts with a named beneficiary.
- Bank and brokerage accounts held in joint name or with transfer on death or payable on death beneficiaries.
- Life insurance, brokerage, pension, and retirement accounts with a named beneficiary.
Contact The Heritage Law Center to Work with an Experienced North Shore Probate Attorney
There are frequently unexpected complexities to the probate process, which is why so many attorneys, like ours, work hard to help clients avoid the process. Nevertheless, we’re here to manage all legal complications in order to lighten the burden on you and your family during this difficult time. We’ll stand by you every step of the way, clarifying issues as we address them, and offering you the compassion that is, for us, an integral part of our job. Contact our law firm for a consultation.