How does probate work?
There can be terrific grief and pain at the loss of a loved one. Beyond grief and pain, when you add external stresses to the equation you can have a disaster on your hands in very short order.
Part of the responsibilities or duties of Personal Representative of an estate can be to reduce the level of stress during the probate process.
The fundamental duties of a personal representative (also known as an "executor," if male, or an "executrix," if female) of an estate are the same as those of a trustee–protecting the assets and interests of the beneficiaries. One way to protect those assets and interests and, at the same time, help the probate process go smoothly, is to have all of your ducks in a row and prepare as best you can.
Read on for some essential reminders about the probate process and how an attorney can assist with the process.
What should I know about the probate process?
There are three different ways of beginning probate in Massachusetts, depending on the value and complexity of the estate. When filing, you must have the decedent's original will, so look for that first.
One thing to realize if you are a beneficiary is that the will may be "read" a few days after the funeral, but the gifts and bequests are not given out at that time. Yes, you may be entitled to the assets, but the inheritance is subject to the estate's administration. The representative must settle the decedent's debts and claims before he or she can make any distribution of the assets. So, beneficiaries, do not go to Grandma's house with a moving truck and start taking whatever you want. Most likely, the representative is doing his or her job and making sure everything stays where it is until probate is closed.
As noted above, the representative also must to keep the administration process moving along by settling all of the decedent's debts. He or she must give proper notices to creditors, including making publication in the appropriate newspaper.
The representative must keep the beneficiaries in the loop, to include providing each with notice that the will has been admitted to probate.The representative is responsible for the care and maintenance of estate property, treating it with even greater care than his or her own property. The representative is able to sell any property that is perishable or would deteriorate in value during the probate process.
As you can see, being a representative is a big, big job. Consequently, he or she can be removed if proven to have been guilty of any gross misconduct or mismanagement in the role of representative. The representative may be subject to a suit for breach of fiduciary duty. Along the way, there are taxes to be paid and returns to be filed, along with a many other details.
It's okay to ask for help.
So you see, there is more than a little pressure on the personal representative. As a result, it is essential that the representative work in concert with Bridget Murray, an experienced estate planning attorney to guide the representative or beneficiaries during this process … and avoid all of the hidden landmines.