The importance of having one person responsible for supervising the distribution of your estate according to your wishes cannot be overstated. Worcester Elder Law attorney Paula Smith, with over two decades of experience in Massachusetts Estate Administration, is especially qualified to handle this critical component of your estate planning needs. When there is a death in the family, emotions can interfere with decision-making. Loved ones of the deceased often are in the dark about immediate steps they must take regarding the estate. At a time of immense sadness, practical and pressing matters can be overlooked.
People who have the foresight to get their affairs in order with an estate plan often find that there are more steps involved in the distribution of property than they anticipated. Legally, death is complicated. Although every estate is unique in size, value, and degree of complexity, attorney Paula Smith has found from her experience that there is one absolute similarity among her elder law clients. They all want the best for their loved ones left behind. No one wants their relatives to be burdened with worries about money or legal entanglements. Simply put, if it is your wish that your beneficiaries have the freedom to deal with the emotional aftermath of loss, and not be encumbered by worry over financial issues or taxes, then you are not alone.
First Things First: Your Will
Although most of your wishes most likely have been documented in your will, in a time of emotional upheaval, there may be some questions and concerns about areas you may not have addressed. A competent and caring elder law attorney like Paula Smith will handle every facet of your will, including filing it at the probate court.
Probate is the process by which property is passed to his or her beneficiaries. The entire process, supervised by the probate court, usually takes about a year. Common probate administration matters include:
- Creditors are notified
- Legal notices are published
- Executors of the Will are directed
- Petitions are filed
1. Filing the will and petition at the probate court. This allows an executor or personal representative to be appointed.
2. Marshaling, or collecting, the assets. This means that you have to find out everything the deceased owned. You need to file a list, known as an “inventory,” with the probate court. It’s generally best to consolidate all the estate funds to the extent possible. Bills and bequests should be paid from a single checking account, either one you establish or one set up by your attorney, so that you can keep track of all expenditures.
3. Paying bills and taxes. If an estate tax return is needed—generally if the estate exceeds $1 million in value—it must be filed within nine months of the date of death. If you miss this deadline and the estate is taxable, severe penalties and interest may apply. If you do not have all the information available in time, you can file for an extension and pay your best estimate of the tax due.
4. Filing tax returns. You must also file a final income tax return for the decedent and, if the estate holds any assets and earns interest or dividends, an income tax return for the estate. If the estate does earn income during the administration process, it will have to obtain its own tax identification number in order to keep track of such earnings.
5. Distributing property to the heirs and legatees. Generally, executors do not pay out all of the estate assets until the period runs out for creditors to make claims, which can be as long as a year after the date of death. But once the executor understands the estate and the likely claims, he or she can distribute most of the assets, retaining a reserve for unanticipated claims and the costs of closing out the estate.
6. Filing a final account. The executor must file an account with the probate court listing any income to the estate since the date of death and all expenses and estate distributions. Once the court approves this final account, the executor can distribute whatever is left in the closing reserve, and finish his or her work.
Select an experienced elder law attorney who is capable and caring, one who will manage your estate administration professionally and with dignity, from beginning to end.