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When dealing with probate, all states have their individual laws. Massachusetts probate laws are fairly standard. Still, anyone who is about to enter this situation should familiarize themselves with the key features to ensure that the best results are achieved under the given circumstances.

While experts like Dowley Legal can guide you through the process, here are five things you should know about Massachusetts probate laws and procedures. The information should enable you to make calculated decisions to make the journey ahead smoother and fairer for all beneficiaries who have an interest in the dearly departed’s estate.

#1. Probate isn’t always a necessary process in MA

Given that it is not a procedure that you are likely to encounter very often, you would be forgiven for assuming that probate is needed after every family loss. However, if the deceased’s estate is comprised exclusively of assets that are held in joint names and assets like life insurance policies that have a named beneficiary, the process may be avoided.

Unfortunately, 60% of Americans either lack a will or proper estate planning. In these cases, probate is the likely outcome. Other situations in which probate may be needed include; when the will’s validity has been questioned, creditors need payment, tax matters are not up to date, or titles need a change of ownership when no survivorship plans are in place.

Thankfully, voluntary probate can provide a quick and convenient solution when beneficiaries are happy for the surviving spouse of the executor to manage the deceased’s assets and financial commitment before distributing the remaining assets. If this is not possible, involuntary administration can play a role.

#2. Probate isn’t just about distributing assets

Ensuring that your loved one’s assets are distributed in the correct way is the final duty you owe them. Before you can even get started, though, the will must be verified by the courts, which can take several weeks. Meanwhile, the personal representative of an estate must also be confirmed. It is the person named in the will, or the decedent’s spurs or heir.

All named beneficiaries (or heirs if no will was made) must be contacted. Meanwhile, creditors have 12 months – as per section 3-803 of the Massachusetts probate laws – to claim what they are owed from the deceased person in the Bay State. Debt settlement, alongside IRS tax returns on any earnings made by the assets during the probation process is essential.

Only then can the remaining assets be managed and distributed fairly to beneficiaries. In many cases, circumstances change between writing a will and death. While distributions must be made in accordance with the dearly departed’s intention, factoring in all beneficiaries will be vital. Especially for voluntary probate as executors may become liable.

#3. Voluntary and informal can be pulled back at any time

Voluntary probate is usually the best way to handle these matters. It’s cheaper, does not require every transaction to be overseen, and brings a quicker conclusion for all parties. When beneficiaries can avoid disagreements, it will help reduce stress in these testing times. It’s also a chance for a surviving spouse to serve their lost loved one for the final time. 

Meanwhile, informal probate is seen as a better option in most cases than a formal probate due to costs, time frames, and general stresses. Unfortunately, one of the big risks is that a beneficiary can withdraw their consent at any time, thus invalidating the probate and forcing you to start a formal process. This could be a huge waste of time, effort, and money.

It also means that the executor has to waive their responsibilities and leave the management of all assets to the courts. Beneficiaries may take this action because they feel they are due more, have had a falling out with the executor, or just want to create drama. If you feel that the probate could follow this path, it may be better to take the formal path.

#4. It might not be too late to complete the process

Probate laws in the State of Massachusetts are primarily designed to help loved ones and beneficiaries complete the process within three years of the deceased’s passing. However, the authorities appreciate that it can be a stressful procedure, especially during emotionally charged times, which is why there are opportunities even after the three years are up.

Firstly, a voluntary administration in which beneficiaries do not want to contest the distribution of assets is not restricted by the three-year limit. However, this can only be used when assets total less than $25,000. Meanwhile, ancillary probate – perhaps for newly discovered assets – can be opened after the initial period has expired.

Alternatively, if your loved one passed after March 31, 2012, a late and limited formal probate can be filed as long as no other probate was registered in the first three years following their death. If you believe that a late filing could be an option for your family, contact Dowley Law to discuss all possibilities. 

#5. Probate is time-consuming

Finally, probate is a time-consuming process that can be particularly challenging if the deceased did not have a will. As an executor or surviving family member, it should be known that probate cannot be opened for seven days following a loved one’s death in informal cases. Voluntary probate is a 30-day delay.

Generally speaking, it is suggested that voluntary probate will take a few months to be finalized while involuntary cases can last for up to 18 months. However, several issues could delay this further. The most common include struggling to locate all beneficiaries, errors in the tax returns, and question marks about whether an asset was owned by the deceased.

Disagreements over the validity of the will or between co-beneficiaries on what to do with assets like properties will also cause disruption. Overall, then, it will be a lengthy process that also has the potential to test your family relationships. For a more convenient and stress-free approach, call Dowley Law to let us handle the process on your behalf.