Hyannis-Based Attorneys Providing Estate Settlement Advice in Southeastern Massachusetts
After taking care of immediate needs such as communicating with family and friends about the death and making funeral arrangements, as an executor, you should communicate the death to agencies and businesses such as attorneys, accountants, banks, the post office, utility companies, credit card companies, and anywhere else the deceased person had an account or conducted business.
The next thing you will want to do is to find the deceased person’s will by searching his or her home and office. In case a will is nonexistent, the property will need to pass through intestate succession. If you do find a will, then you must file it with the local probate court even if you anticipate that a formal probate will not be needed.
After that, you will need to inventory the assets and get proper appraisals. This step will be instrumental in helping you determine how assets will be divided among beneficiaries and find out if the estate will owe any state or federal estate taxes. Having a complete inventory is a required step for probate. You will also want to determine if a formal probate process is required, or if the estate can be settled through informal probate.
In some cases, you will need to liquidate or sell some of the assets. This usually happens when the estate is deemed insolvent (with more debts than assets) or when the decedent died without a will. It also applies for when the deceased person had a lot of personal property not directly addressed in the will that needs to be disposed of.
What Should I Do Before Distributing Property? What About Debts?
After making a complete inventory of the decedent’s assets, you will need to determine if he or she owed any debts. Debtors are required to contact the estate and inform that they believe money is owed. State probate laws determine in which order the creditors will get repaid, and in the case of an insolvent estate, creditors may not receive full payment or any payment at all. You will also want to file income tax returns for the deceased person as well as for the estate if it has a valuation of over $5 million dollars.
All debts and taxes should come off the estate funds, and you do not need to repay debts out of your own pocket. If you don’t believe the estate will have enough funds to cover all debts, get guidance from the court or from an attorney.
It is also important to keep beneficiaries informed and notified along the process. Beneficiaries can grow unhappy or become suspicious of wrongdoing if there is a lack of communication from the executor, or if the executor fails to notify them about important steps such as selling real estate. If a beneficiary believes an executor is incompetent or is not acting honestly, he or she may go to court to try and have that person removed.
Once all estate debts are repaid, you may begin distributing property among beneficiaries. If the deceased person left both a will and a living trust, you will need to work closely with the successor trustee (the person in charge of trust assets). Any property in a trust can go directly to beneficiaries and does not require the use of a probate court.
How Can I Learn More And Get Help?
Bearing the responsibility of an executor while grieving the loss of your loved one is quite challenging for anyone. Strategic planning ahead of time might really help you in the process. In the case of a loved one with a will, as soon as you are informed by him or her that you have been chosen as the estate executor, you may want to start doing research and learning what it all entails so you are better prepared when the time comes.
The legal team at Boyd & Boyd has helped many clients walk through the process of being an executor and settling their loved one’s estate while avoiding headaches and unwanted surprises. We have a deep understanding of Massachusetts Probate Laws and can help you fully understand your responsibilities as an executor and assist you in taking the steps required to ensure your loved one’s estate is cared for and properly handed down to the next generation.
Call our Hyannis office at (508) 775-7800 and request a free initial estate planning consultation to get help with your Estate Settlement needs.