Attorney Roberta A. Schreiber has handled all aspects of estate administration in North Reading, Massachusetts, Middlesex County, Wilmington, Lynnfield and Wakefield for more than 30 years. Probate is the legal process by which your Will is approved by a Probate Court Judge, and the persons named as Guardian of your minor children and the Personal Representative of your estate are appointed. Under the new Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code, the unisex term "Personal Representative" has replaced "executor," "executrix," "administrator" and "administratrix." The probate process comes as a surprise to most people. Writing a Will is only the start of the probate process. After your death, the Probate Court must approve the Will, and the appointment of your children's Guardian and your Personal Representative. Until your Will has been "allowed" by the Probate Court, your Personal Representative has no legal authority to administer your estate, access your bank accounts to pay bills and funeral expenses, or to deal with your real estate.
That is why it is imperative that you seek legal counsel from an experienced probate attorney after the death of a family member. Contact our law firm today to schedule an initial consultation with Attorney Schreiber.
Thorough Representation for Personal Representatives, Beneficiaries and Will Contests
Finding your original Will is the first step in the administration of your estate. Be sure that family members know where you have stored your Will and other estate planning documents. The individual named as Personal Representative needs to consult an attorney, who will prepare 10 to 12 probate documents, which must be filled in with personal information about you, your Will, your beneficiaries, your Personal Representative, and your financial assets and real estate. These documents are signed by your Personal Representative, the beneficiaries of your will and the attorney for the estate. They are filed with the Probate Court with your original Will (not a copy) and a filing fee of about $400. It can take six to eight weeks for the Probate Court to issue a decree "allowing" the Will and appointing your Personal Representative. Your Personal Representative cannot start the administration of your estate until the decree is issued. The decree must be published in your local newspaper. The cost of publication is $200 to $450 (every newspaper has a different fee schedule). If you don't have a Will, a Petition for Probate must be filed with the Probate Court by one or more family members, to establish who will be appointed as Personal Representative of your estate and who will inherit your property. With no Will, Massachusetts intestacy laws determine who your "heirs-at-law" are and what share of the estate they are entitled to.
It is a lot of work to serve as Personal Representative. It can be a difficult job with a lot of responsibilities. You must distribute personal items to family members and friends, clean out the family home and other real estate, sell cars, personal property, and real estate, obtain appraisals of the real estate and other assets, locate all bank and investment accounts, collect and distribute life insurance proceeds and funds in retirement accounts, pay funeral and burial expenses, final bills, and administration expenses, set up one or more estate accounts, provide the information needed for income tax returns and estate tax returns (if necessary), and, of course, deal with the beneficiaries of the Will. See the Gift and Estate Tax page to see if estate taxes will be due from your estate. If there is real estate, you will have to deal with the real estate broker and potential buyers, negotiate a Purchase and Sales Agreement, obtain a License to Sell Real estate from the Probate Court (in some cases), and attend the closing. When all of this is done, distributions must be made to beneficiaries, and a financial account of all that you have done must be prepared and approved by the beneficiaries. If there are disputes among the beneficiaries, you have to settle them. If the disputes can't be resolved, the Personal Representative or the beneficiaries can file a Petition in Probate Court to have a Probate Court Judge settle the matter. This can be expensive and time-consuming, so it is best to anticipate and solve possible problems at the outset.
Guardianships and Probate Matters
The family members or friends named as Guardian(s) of your minor children may, in most cases, take custody of your children before the Guardians are officially appointed by the Probate Court. Your minor children's share of your estate will not be turned over to the Guardians until the Will has been allowed and the Personal Representative is appointed. The Guardians are responsible for investing and spending your children's inheritance until each child turns 18. When each child turns 18, he or she can demand whatever remains of his or her share of your estate. Few parents view this as a good estate plan. A better option is establishing a Trust before your death that will be funded for the benefit of your children if they have not reached the age chosen by you. Most of my clients chose 25 or 30 as the youngest age at which a child can receive an outright distribution of their share of your estate. Making distributions in installments is also popular. Your child may make some mistakes when he or she receives a distribution at the age of 25. Hopefully, when he or she receives his or her next installment, he or she will not make the same mistake. While the funds are held in Trust, the Trustee chosen by you will invest the Trust funds and spend the money following your instructions in the Trust Agreement. See the Trust page and the Article titled " What Type of Trust is Right for You?" for more information about Trusts.
Dealing with the estate of a loved one can be difficult and time-consuming and must be done at a time when you do not feel up to the task. You may have the added responsibility of acting as the Trustee of a Trust established by a family member. Roberta has represented family members in settling estates for more than 30 years. She has developed checklists and questionnaires to assist the Personal Representative of an estate and the Trustee of a Trust in carrying out their responsibilities correctly and within the required time limits. Dealing with the beneficiaries of the Will or Trust can be difficult, particularly if someone is not happy with the terms of the Will or Trust. When there is no Will, family members may not be able to agree on who should be appointed as Personal Representative of the estate. Roberta has experience in acting as a mediator in family disputes and Will contests and will help you anticipate and deal with difficult situations and unhappy heirs-at-law. If necessary, she will represent you in a Will contest or a Probate Court proceeding to clarify the terms of a Will or Trust. Roberta has experience in preparing probate accounts, trust accounts, fiduciary tax returns, and estate tax returns, and representing the Personal Representatives when an estate tax return is audited.
Contact Us About Estate Administration in Essex County, Middlesex County and Suffolk County
If you need assistance in administering an Estate or a Trust, or if you have questions about your rights as the beneficiary of a Will or Trust, please contact us for an initial consultation with Attorney Schreiber.