If you agreed to be the executor of a family member's will, you may not have truly understood what duties you are expected to perform upon his or her death. The Massachusetts probate process requires that certain steps be taken before the estate can be distributed and considered closed. Below are the basic steps that must be taken during the administration of an estate.
Even though you are named as the executor in the will, the court still needs to officially appoint you. This is done through the filing of a probate petition. Once the will is declared valid, you will be given the authority to act on behalf of the estate. The process from start to finish can take up to a year if there are no complications.
This is, in part, because any creditors of your loved one are given up to a year to make a claim against the estate. A notification sent to creditors at the beginning of the probate process starts the clock. During this time, all of the taxes, debts and claims, if any, are to be paid or otherwise disposed of by the executor.
You will also be responsible for identifying and protecting all of the assets left behind. Once an inventory is completed, all of the assets need to be appraised. This task should also be started as soon as possible since accountings and valuations can take a significant amount of time. Once these tasks are complete and an accounting is provided to the court regarding the estate's receipts and expenses, the remaining assets can be distributed to heirs and beneficiaries in accordance with the instructions in the will. At this point, the estate will be considered completely administered, and the court's file can be closed.
Fortunately, being the executor does not mean that you have to go through the Massachusetts probate process alone. An attorney can assist you with all of your duties. In addition, if anyone contests the will or other litigation arises, your attorney can guide and assist you with those matters as well.