Probate Lawyer Helping Residents in New Bedford, Hyannis & Easton
Probate, the court-supervised process for managing a deceased person’s estate, can be complicated and confusing. If you have been named the personal representative in a loved one’s will, you have a duty to properly handle the estate assets during what will likely be an emotionally charged time. The best way to navigate the process is to engage the services of an experienced estate planning attorney.
Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. routinely guides clients through probate proceedings in Southern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and the Islands. Well-versed in the rules and customs of the local probate courts, we have a well-earned reputation for providing executors and beneficiaries with first-rate representation when they need it most. When you become our client, you can rest assured that your interests will be protected.
Is probate necessary in Massachusetts?
Whether or not a probate proceeding is necessary depends on the type and value of the estate assets. Certain property is exempt from probate, such as:
- Property in which title was held jointly or by tenancy in the entirety
- Property held by a revocable living trust
- Retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)s, with designated beneficiaries
- Life insurance policies with designated beneficiaries
- Bank accounts with “pay on death” (POD) designations
Additionally, if the deceased person left no real estate and the value of the estate assets does not exceed $25,000, a process known as “voluntary administration” is available. This allows any interested person to act as a voluntary personal representative who, upon the court’s approval, is responsible for paying debts and distributing the remaining estate assets. A simplified probate proceeding is also available if the estate does not exceed the value of exempt property, family allowance, probate costs, funeral expenses, and last illness.
What is the role of a personal representative?
A personal representative is responsible for carrying out the instructions of the will.
Generally, the duties of an executor include:
- Notifying beneficiaries and heirs named in the will
- Inventorying and appraising estate assets
- Paying the decedent’s debts to creditors
- Filing the decedent’s final income taxes
- Paying any applicable estate taxes
- Distributing the remaining assets to the heirs
To initiate a probate proceeding, the executor must petition the probate court to be appointed. A hearing will be held to verify that the designated individual is capable of acting in this capacity after which the court will issue “Letters Testamentary,” a legal document authorizing the personal representative to probate the will. It is important to note that a personal representative has a fiduciary duty to carry out his or duties ethically. This means that the executor must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and can be held liable for mistakes or misconduct.
If the decedent did not have a will in place, an interested person, typically an heir or a legal relative, must ask the court to be appointed as the estate administrator. The court will issue Letters of Administration, and the administrator is responsible for managing and distributing the estate assets according to the intestacy laws of Massachusetts.
At Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. we have a well-earned reputation for patiently guiding our clients through the probate and estate administration process so that the beneficiaries receive the inheritance that was intended for them.
How long does a probate proceeding in Massachusetts take?
The duration of a formal probate proceeding depends on the size of the estate and the type of assets it holds; however, the process generally takes between 9 and 18 months. On the other hand, the process may take longer if the estate holds real estate or other high-value assets that must be sold.
Call Our Southern Massachusetts Probate Attorney
At Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. we are dedicated to protecting the interests of executors and beneficiaries. Knowing that probating an estate while grieving the loss of a loved one is an emotional burden, we will offer you compassion, knowledge and a superior level of personal service. If you have been named the executor of an estate or a loved one has died without a will in place, we can help. Please contact our office today to speak with our probate attorneys.