If you recently experienced the loss of a loved one, you are likely going through the grieving period that typically follows a loss. Understandably, the last thing you may want to focus on right now is the legal ramifications of your loved one’s death. If, however, you were named as the Executor of the estate in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, you will need to focus at least some of your energy on the probate of the estate. The Woburn, Massachusetts estate planning attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices understand how difficult it can be to try and navigate the legal system, particularly when you are still grieving a loss. To help make your job as Executor a little easier, we have compiled some probate resources for you that we hope you will find useful.
If you are new to the concept of probate, it helps to learn a few basics before you get started with your duties and responsibilities as Executor of the estate. Probate is the legal process that is typically required following the death of an individual. Probate is intended to serve several purposes, including providing a method by which estate assets are transferred to the new owners and ensuring that all debts of the decedent, including tax obligations, are paid before those assets are transferred out of the estate. If you are the Executor of the estate, that means that the decedent appointed you to that position in his/her Last Will and Testament. It also means that the decedent had a considerable amount of faith in you and your abilities and is trusting you to efficiently and effectively handle the probate of his/her estate. For more general information on the probate process, try perusing “The Probate Process” section of the American Bar Association’s website or the “Will and Estates” section of the Massachusetts Courts Self Help Section.
Resources for the Pro Se Executor
Generally speaking, the probate of an estate takes place in the county in which the decedent was a resident at the time of his/her death. Consequently, if your loved one was a resident of Middlesex County, Massachusetts at the time of death, the probate will be filed in Middlesex County. That means you will be in the Middlesex Probate and Family Court. Most Executors retain the services of an experienced probate attorney to assist them during the probate of an estate because of the legalities involved in the probate process and the risk of making costly mistakes. If, however, you decide to proceed pro se, or without an attorney, you should take the time to read through the MUPC Estate Administration Procedural Guide published by the Probate and Family Court. In addition, you might also wish to read through the “Representing Yourself in a Civil Case: Things to Consider When Going to Court” page on the court’s website.
Resources for Finding an Attorney
If you decide to retain an attorney, you might start with the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys website. The AAEPA is a national organization of attorneys who have chosen to focus their practice on legal issues related to wills, trusts, and estates. Membership in the AAEPA signifies that an attorney has proven experience in the areas of estate planning and/or elder law. You might also try using “Lawyer Referral Service” on the MassBar Association’s website.
Resources for All Executors
One of your first duties as Executor of the estate will be to officially open the probate of the estate. To do that, you will need the original copy of the decedent’s Will along with a certified copy of the death certificate. You may obtain certified death certificates from the Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics. You will also need to identify all assets owned by the decedent. A search for real property may be conducted using the Middlesex County Land Records website. Yet another duty of the Executor is to notify creditors of the estate that probate is underway. To ensure that unknown creditors also have a chance to file a claim, you will need to publish notice of the probate of the estate which can be accomplished in the Massachusetts section of “My Public Notices.”
Resources for Calculating and Paying Taxes
Every estate is potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes. As the Executor/PR of the estate you must prepare an estate tax return and determine if the estate owes any federal taxes. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website offers a general overview of the federal estate tax. They also have a “Frequently Asked Questions about Estate Tax” section that may be helpful. If the estate does, indeed, owe federal gift and estate taxes, those taxes must be paid before any assets are transferred out of the estate. In addition, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts also imposes an estate tax. To find out more about the state estate tax, try the “A Guide to Estate Taxes” section of Department of Revenue.
If you have been appointed the Executor of the estate of a recently deceased loved one, and you have additional questions or concerns, please feel free to contact the experienced Massachusetts probate attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices by calling (978) 969-0331 to schedule your free consultation.