Thomas H. Sullivan

Attorney at Law

Probate and Trust Administration

Probate—Probate is a process that each state has to ensure that a decedent’s debts are paid and that their property is distributed the persons entitled to that property.  When a person dies without a will, the laws of “Intestate Succession” control who is entitled to that person’s assets.  When a person dies with a Will it is called a “Testate Estate” and the property will pass to the parties specified in a valid Last Will & Testament.  Whether you die with a Will or without a Will, the estate may still have to go through a probate, unless certain exceptions apply.  If a loved one has died, we, at Sullivan Estate Law, LLC, can help you figure out whether probate is necessary or if it can be avoided.  If probate is necessary, our knowledgeable staff will guide you through every step of the process and give caring and compassionate advice and counseling.  We strive to make the probate process as painless and inexpensive as possible. 
If a loved one has passed away, you are under no obligation to go back to the attorney who drafted the estate plan, and can seek the services of any knowledgeable estate attorney.  There are, however, certain time periods within which you must act.  If there is a Will, it must be filed for probate within six months of the date of death.  Even if there is not a Will, it is generally necessary to initiate probate on a timely basis, so that an administrator can be appointed to pay bills, resolve legal matters, and transfer title.  Title does not automatically pass to the next of kin or beneficiaries under a Will; this can only be accomplished through the probate process. 
Trust Administration—Many people think that if a family member has a trust, that there is nothing that has to be done following the death.  On the contrary, there is much that needs to be done, but it can generally be accomplished without the supervision or approval of the Probate Court.  Even if there is a trust, someone has to be responsible for paying bills, filing final tax returns, filing insurance claim forms, inventorying and valuing the trust assets, liquidating assets, and disposing of or distributing the assets in accordance with the terms of the trust. 
In some cases where a decedent had a trust, the assets are not titled in the name of the trust. In those cases it may or may not be necessary to have a probate in order to change the title of those assets that are not tilted in the name of the trust.  At Sullivan Estate Law, LLC, we can help you identify the ownership of each asset, and determine the best and least expensive way of transferring ownership to the person or persons who are entitled to that property.
Even though a trust does not need to go through probate, it is still important to inventory and value all of the assets.  The value of those assets on the date of the Trustmaker’s death, becomes the beneficiary(ies) cost basis in those assets.  When those assets are later sold, you will need to have documentation of the value of those assets on the date of the Trustmaker’s death to determine if there is a taxable gain or loss.  The value of those assets on the date of the Trustmaker’s death is also used to determine whether a Federal Estate Tax return needs to be filed.  At Sullivan Estate Law, LLC we can help you identify all of the assets, determine the value of each asset and create a permanent and independent record of the value of each asset for the future use of the beneficiaries.  We can also help you deal with creditor’s claims, and administer the trust in accordance with the terms of the trust. 
Even as a surviving spouse, it is important to inventory and value the assets to document a step-up in basis at death.  The terms of the trust may require that the trust be divided into multiple shares and failure to do so can have adverse tax consequences for the surviving spouse and other family members.
Administering a trust is much easier and much less expensive than going though probate, but there is still much to be done and failure to administer the trust in accordance with its terms can have devastating consequences.  Our knowledgeable and experienced staff can help you administer your loved ones trust in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.