Attorney Merrill J. Atkins has handled all aspects of estate administration in Worcester County. Probate is the legal process by which your Will is approved by a Probate Court Judge, and the person(s) 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 Atkins.

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. 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. 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.

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. Attorney Atkins has experience resolving these matters.

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