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What do I have to do to probate an estate?

If you find yourself in the position of estate administrator for a friend or loved one who has passed on, you may not have a clue what duties are expected of you. That's quite understandable for those who have never before undertaken these tasks.

Naturally, the more vast the estate, the more complex the process will necessarily be. But even small estates can give administrators pause if they are unsure of the legal requirements.

This is why it's always a good idea to seek advice from a Massachusetts estate planning attorney if you're faced with such responsibilities. Below are some basic guidelines estate administrators must handle during the probate process.

-- In some situations, they must make the final arrangements for the deceased.

-- They must gather all estate planning documents like wills, revocable living trusts, burial plans and cemetery deeds.

-- Administrators locate all financial instruments and life insurance policy documents. They must come up with deeds to vehicles, homes and all other property owned by the decedent. They also should have access to the past three years of federal tax returns.

-- Settle all undisputed debts of the decedent, including the final expenses and estate administration costs. Some debts may need to be disputed in court if it's alleged or believed they may not be owed.

-- Pay the final year's income taxes owed by the decedent.

-- Maintain the assets of the estate. This should be done in the most cost-effective way and early in the process to avoid choice assets disappearing via too-eager beneficiaries or heirs.

-- Keep the heirs periodically informed about what stage in the probate process the estate is in and run interference for them with any questions.

-- Obtain accurate, up-to-date valuations on the estate assets.

Your estate attorney can file the documents to officially open the decedent's estate with the court handling probate. Make sure that your record-keeping is meticulous, as everything must be presented to the court.

At the end of the probate process, estate administrators distribute what remains of the assets to the heirs. Administrators can be held liable for any discrepancies, so work closely with your estate attorney to assure the process is done flawlessly.

Source: The Balance, "Probate Checklist - How to Probate an Estate," Julie Garber, accessed March 09, 2017

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