The probate process in Boston can be confusing, especially for anyone who has never navigated the court system before. In many cases, collecting and disbursing the assets of an estate can be more complicated than a personal representative might initially think.
If you have been appointed to administer an estate, it is helpful to understand the probate process. The steps you must follow will differ depending on the type of probate case you are dealing with. In each of these cases, the guidance of a dedicated estate planning attorney could be invaluable.
When the court distributes the assets of one’s estate after their passing, this process is known as probate. Probate is needed in cases when someone leaves behind an estate without a living trust or last will and testament. If it is clear probate is necessary, the first step in the process will depend on if there is a will that names a personal representative. The personal representative oversees the probate process, and it is their job to begin the probate case.
If a will that names a representative, that person must first file a formal petition with the probate court in the county where the decedent lived at the time of their death. If there is no will or the person named in the will refuses to serve, it is up to the court to select an appropriate personal representative. The surviving spouse of the deceased person has priority under the law.
A probate petition requests the court to formally appoint a personal representative. The petition must include a death certificate for the deceased. The appointment of a representative will allow a person to move forward with the probate process. The last will and testament, if they exist, should also be attached to the petition.
The court will need to appoint or select a personal representative (known as an “executor” until 2012). Once the court selects a personal representative, they will issue a document informally referred to as the “letters” (short for “letters of appointmemt”.) This document empowers the representative to gather the estate’s assets, deal with debts, and disburse what remains to the heirs.
The personal representative is entitled to a fee for performing this work. That said, the fee is considered taxable income. For that reason, many representatives set to inherit from the estate will waive their fee. Once they disburse the assets and pay the creditors, it is time for the representative to ask the court to close the probate case. A knowledgeable Boston attorney could help you understand your role as a personal representative in the probate process.
Massachusetts state law also allows for a form of simplified probate. This option is available in cases with few assets and is intended to be more streamlined than standard probate. For that reason, the steps for simplified probate are different.
Simplified probate is available to an estate with no real estate holdings and personal property worth less than $25,000 in total. Simplified probate is also an option when an estate’s value is worth less than the total amount of exempt property. This is an option for estates where creditors will not be able to reach any of the assets.
For simplified probate, the process is relatively simple. While the court will appoint a personal representative, they can distribute assets right away before filing a closing statement in the probate court. If you think that you may be a candidate for simplified probate, reach out to determine your next steps.
Serving as a personal representative in a probate case is a significant undertaking. While this responsibility might feel overwhelming, the guidance of an attorney could simplify the process dramatically. Reach out today to the probate process in Boston with a dedicated legal professional.