Handling the Estate of a Loved One
Overview of The Probate Administration Process
When a loved one dies, those left behind are often left to not only cope with the loss of a loved one, but also to administer their loved one’s estate. Assets not held in a trust must be distributed through the court process called probate.
The probate process involves the court appointment of a personal representative (“PR,” formerly known as an executor) to handle the decedent’s estate administration. Once the court has appointed a personal representative (usually the person nominated in the will), the PR must file the original will, death certificate, and provide notice to all interested parties; pay estate expenses; satisfy debts to creditors (or resolve disputed claims); protect estate assets; prepare an inventory of estate assets; and distribute assets. Occasionally, this process is straightforward, but more often there are complicated issues that must be resolved, such as determining which creditors are entitled to priority of payment when limited funds are available, or determining which beneficiaries are entitled to specific distributions through a will.
Massachusetts follows the Uniform Probate Code.
How Long Does Probate Take?
The length of probate depends on the type of administration necessary. It can last months to years. For estates worth less than $25,000, an involuntary probate may be all that is needed, which is less expensive and faster than other types. Most estates, however, require either an informal or formal proceeding. An informal proceeding is appropriate when there is an original will, which names a PR, and there is no objection to that person’s appointment; there is an official death certificate; and all heirs and persons inheriting under the will are locatable. It is a fairly straightforward process. A formal (and more expensive) probate is required (among other reasons) if the original will is missing, there is no death certificate, or a person not having priority for appointment wishes to be the PR.
Do I Need A Probate Lawyer?
No. Anyone can file probate documents. At Holly Lynch Law, we can do it for you or guide you through the process so that you can do it yourself. Attorney fees for probate work are billed on an hourly basis, so the less time we spend on your matter, the less it costs you.
Which Assets are Included in a Probate Estate?
Anything owned in the decedent’s name alone at the time of death becomes part of the probate estate. Assets held in trust pass outside of probate and go directly to the beneficiaries of them. Joint bank accounts pass outside of probate, as do retirement accounts that have named beneficiaries. Jointly held real estate passes outside of probate.
How Long Do I Have to Open Probate Administration?
The general rule is that probate administration must be started no later than three years after the date of death. However, there are exceptions as provided in the Massachusetts Probate Code, Section 3-108.