Category Archives: Probate/Estate Administration

Avoiding Conflict In a Blended Family

Another celebrity death, another article about how the family is headed off to court to fight over things. Apparently, Robin William’s children and his wife are arguing over his estate. According to the New York Times article, Williams left his property in a trust for his 3 children, with another trust for his wife that provided for her to be able to live in their residence with all of the expenses paid. It even specifically outlined what personal property she could keep, and what should go to his children. That seems like it should take care of the fighting, doesn’t it? But it hasn’t.

They are apparently arguing over things like the tuxedo he got married in and what the wife calls “knickknacks” and the children call “graphic novels, action figures, theater masks, movie posters and other artifacts that they regard as having been crucial fuel for his seemingly boundless creativity.”

Sadly, disputes like this are not limited to wealthy celebrity families. There can be disputes over jewelry, clothing, tools, photos, artwork, kitchen accessories (who gets grandma’s rolling pin that she made pie with everything Thanksgiving?), musical instruments and any number of other things that people attach a sentimental or monetary value to. And often it is things that would look worthless to an outside party that cause the most strife.

Grief does funny things to people – everyday items take on extreme significance, behavior by another sibling that would have been overlooked in the past suddenly seems evasive and secretive, and guilt or long held resentments can bubble up and explode at the slightest provocation.

So how do you avoid this? Some clients put stickers on things to show who should get what, some leave a list, others pretend that their families will be able to “work it out amongst themselves,” which rarely happens. Because it is often about more than just the items, I think that taking about things ahead of time could help. If you are living with a spouse who is not the parent of your children, and there are items in your home that were there when your children were small, you may want to say “if something happens to me, you are not to take anything out of this house. My wife/husband lives here, and these items are to stay here as long as she wants. When she is ready to let them go, they will go to you, but until then do not bother her about them.” And have the same conversation with your spouse. Likewise, if there are things you would want your children to have at your death, talk about this, too. Recognize that, if the family dining room set is going to be shipped off to your daughter when you pass, your spouse will need to get new furniture or be faced with an empty room.

The more you can communicate up front, the easier things will be on your family when you pass away. We all own stuff, and we are all going to die. And it is going to cause people in our lives to grieve. These are facts that cannot be avoided. However, we can also take the time to recognize that people may have disagreements over our stuff, and do what we can to mitigate those.

I’m The Executor Of An Estate, Do I Have to Go To Court?

When a client comes to me because they have been appointed the executor of someone’s estate (Massachusetts now refers to executors as “personal representatives”) they often want to know if they will need to go to Court and stand in front of a judge as part of the process. In Massachusetts, in an attempt toContinue Reading

Probating A Will In Massachusetts

If you have been appointed as the personal representative (formerly called the executor) of someone’s will in Massachusetts, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the job. The legal requirements and responsibilities of the job are not minor and you may find yourself in difficulties if certain steps aren’t followed. While in general it is bestContinue Reading

How Long Does Probate Take In Massachusetts?

As a Hingham elder law attorney, I am often asked by clients “how long will this take” when they begin probating a family member’s estate.  (Probate is essentially the process by which certain property passes from a deceased person to their heirs and beneficiaries.)  Like many things in life, it depends. Some of the timeContinue Reading

“Can I Get Paid As Executor?”

Serving as executor, or personal representative (PR) as they are now called in Massachusetts, of someone’s estate can be a time consuming job. It involves inventorying the estate, locating and marshaling the assets, filing tax returns, meetings with attorneys or accountants, fielding questions from heirs and making distributions. Even in an uncomplicated case it canContinue Reading

Leaving A Memo or Letter With Your Will

Your Will is the place where you distribute certain types of property after your death. Anything that has a joint owner (like a house or a bank account) or a named beneficiary (like a retirement plan or insurance policy) will pass to the joint owner or beneficiary upon your death. Your other property is distributedContinue Reading

Probate In Massachusetts – What Information Is Needed?

Probate is the process by which property passes from someone who has died to that person’s beneficiaries or heirs.  It’s a paperwork driven process involving the Court system. If you have been named the executor of an estate, there is certain material you will need in order to open and close the estate. What informationContinue Reading

The Importance of Keeping Good Records

If you are managing money for someone else, whether as a trustee, conservator or executor it is very important to keep good records. You may be held accountable to the Court or other interested parties for the work you are doing and your job will be easier if you have good records. In addition toContinue Reading

How To Change Attorneys

I will sometimes get clients who are leaving, or have left, their current attorney due to a problem with the attorney/client relationship.  Sometimes they will meet with me before they have formally ended their relationship with their other attorney, and they have questions about how to do that.  This post is to guide you throughContinue Reading

Completing a Probate Inventory

If you are appointed the executor or administrator of someone’s estate in Massachusetts, you will be required to complete and file with the court an Inventory.  An Inventory is a form that the court will send you after you have been appointed, usually with the decree and certificate which shows that you are the executor.Continue Reading