When a loved one passes away, the grief and shock of loss are accompanied by the mundane details of sorting out the loved one's affairs: paying bills, settling taxes, and administering their estate. Whether you're just getting started or are having trouble administering an estate, we can help.
The Basics of Probate Administration
Probate is the court-supervised process of transferring title and ownership of a person's estate (home, bank accounts, etc.) when they die. This transfer is guided by the terms of a person's will or, if there is no will, by your state’s intestacy codes. (Intestacy codes are essentially a default will the state has written for people who have not written their own wills.)
There are many different kinds of probate administration, and which an individual estate will qualify for depends on the circumstances, the family, and the assets the estate holds. That said, probate administration (very) generally works as follows:
In order to probate property of a person who has died (the “decedent”), the person appointed as executor or personal administrator in the will, or a family member if there is no will, fills out some probate court paperwork and sends it to the court with a filing fee, and with the will, if there is one.
The probate court will appoint the executor named in the will, or a close relative, if there is no will. (Again, this is very general.) The named executor or administrator (known in Massachusetts as a personal representative) will file an inventory listing all the property held in the estate. Then the court will publish a notice of the opening of the estate so that the decedent’s creditors can file claims with the estate. The estate will be held open for six months at this point, so that creditors have time to file those claims.
Once all the decedent’s debts have been tallied, any money or property left over will be divided as specified in the will, or as directed by the intestacy codes. The executor will file an accounting with the probate court, showing how the estate’s money has been spent. There may be other filings with the court, depending again on the estate. Then the executor will pay off debts, distribute whatever’s left, and file to close the estate. The executor will also file the decedent’s last income tax return and, if the estate had income, a tax return for the estate itself.