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What is the purpose of the probate process and how does it work?

Many Massachusetts residents are aware that losing a loved one is difficult. Not only is it necessary to handle the funeral and burial, but any real and personal property owned by the deceased family member will need to be distributed -- hopefully in accordance with a will and/or trust. This distribution and/or transfer of property is the purpose of the probate process, as well as wrapping up any other financial issues of the decedent, including his or her debts.

A loved one's property is transferred to his or her heirs through probate, with some notable exceptions. Assets that pass by "operation of law," meaning they are subject to a beneficiary designation such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts. Any assets owned jointly with the decedent or are gifted during his or her life will also not need to pass through probate. Further, any assets held by a trust will not be subject to probate, which is the court-supervised distribution of assets.

For assets that need to go through probate, the executor named in the will is responsible for their distribution. However, this cannot be done until an inventory of the property is done, all debts -- including taxes and any other claims -- are paid and any disputes are handled. Most probates are not contested, so there are often no conflicts to settle. Once all of these actions are completed and the property is legally transferred to the heirs and beneficiaries, the probate can be closed, and the executor is relieved of his or her duties by the court.

Most Massachusetts residents quickly discover that handling the details of the probate process can be confusing and/or frustrating. This article is merely a simplistic outline of what the process actually entails. Anyone faced with filing a probate would benefit from the advice and assistance of someone versed in the requirements and court procedures associated therewith.

Source: FindLaw, "The Probate Basics", , Aug. 25, 2014

Source: FindLaw, "The Probate Basics", , Aug. 25, 2014

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