When a loved one passes, the probate process in Massachusetts may feel like a daunting prospect but familiarizing yourself with the procedure will help you reach the best possible outcome, especially when you are supported by Dowley Legal’s team of professional representatives. In turn, this will allow you to focus on more important issues like grieving with your family.
This quick guide will help you gain a deeper understanding of the probate process in Massachusetts by looking at key issues, such as;
- When is probate needed?
- Who are the key personnel within the probate process?
- How does the probate process in Massachusetts work?
When is probate needed?
Probate is used to manage and distribute a decedent’s estate to their beneficiaries and heirs. While it won’t be needed if the instructions of their will are clear or assets were jointly held with their surviving spouse, there are several situations in which the legal process is required. Common examples include when the will needs to be validated or when a transfer of property ownership is needed.
The legal procedures must be complete in conjunction with the laws on the probate process in Massachusetts. Depending on the circumstances, the following types of probate could be used;
- Voluntary probate
- Informal probate
- Formal probate
- Late and limited probate
While each has its distinct procedures, the fundamental concept remains constant as probate is designed to manage the decedent’s unresolved financial commitments and distribute the remaining assets fairly and as they would have wanted. For that reason, it’s not only crucial from a financial perspective – it’s also a necessary step for respecting their wishes.
How probate works in Massachusetts
As a surviving spouse or close loved one, the tasks that you will be required to complete will depend largely on which type of probate is used. When taking on a voluntary administration, for example, you will have the power to manage the distributions to the beneficiaries. For a formal probate case, though, there will be supervised administration and at least one court hearing in front of a judge.
Only one in three Americans has an established estate plan, so there is a strong possibility that you will be required to file a probate case. It will involve the following steps
Confirming the personal representative appointment
Opening probate is when the estate and will (where applicable) are sent to the county probate courts to confirm validity.
The personal representative of the estate – also known as the executor – will be appointed by the courts. This is the person who will be responsible for collecting, managing, and distributing the dearly departed’s assets.
If the decedent had a will that named a person to act as the executor, this decision is upheld. If they didn’t, the personal representative is usually the surviving spurs or closest family member.
The beneficiaries listed in the will, or heirs to the estate if no will was left, must then be notified of their inheritance rights. If all beneficiaries are happy not to contest the distribution of assets, voluntary probate can be used. If it is assumed that disagreements will surface, monitored formal probate may be better.
Of course, analyzing the situation against the criteria for different probate methods will be required. For example, voluntary probate in Massachusetts is only possible when the estate is valued at under $25,000.
If the beneficiary is a minor, parents can file on behalf of them but only after gaining court permission. Meanwhile, beneficiaries do not have to be residents of the Bay State.
Before any assets can be distributed to the beneficiaries, it is imperative that any unresolved financial matters are cleared on behalf of the decedent. Creditors will have 12 months to post claims for money owed. The executor will then determine which items should be paid and take these funds from the decedent’s estate.
While it is possible to reject a claim, creditors would then have another 12 months to file lawsuits. So, any legitimate creditors should be paid.
Clearing tax matters
As well as paying any outstanding debts, it will be necessary to settle any tax matters. For starters, this will mean making IRS payments on any untaxed earnings that the decedent made between their last tax contribution and their death. The tax office may also choose to complete an audit, although this doesn’t always happen.
However, you will also need to pay tax on any earnings made from the estate since your loved one’s passing.
Confirming the distributions
When the legal and financial obligations regarding debts and tax affairs are settled, the remaining estate can be distributed among the beneficiaries. The executor will naturally want to ensure that the outcome reflects the intentions of the dearly departed, which means ensuring that the right assets end up in the right hands.
However, it will be necessary to factor in the costs of the probate procedures, which can vary greatly depending on which type of probate is used. Assets that could be distributed include properties, vehicles, the proceeds of life insurance coverage, monies from saving accounts, and more.
It should be noted, though, that the executor can be liable for compensating any beneficiaries that were missed out in a voluntary administration.
What else do you need to know about the probate process?
For informal probate procedures in Massachusetts cannot commence for seven days after the decedent’s passing. In voluntary probate, the timeframe is 30 days. However, you will be more focused on arranging the funeral and grieving. So, this is unlikely to be an issue.
Generally speaking, probate should be filed within three years of a loved one’s passing. However, there are circumstances where voluntary probate can be used after this time while a limited and late formal process can be used when the decedent passed after March 31, 2012, if there was no original probate within the first three years following their death.
Probate will take several months to reach its conclusion or could take years in complex cases, especially if there are problems locating beneficiaries or verifying the decedent’s ownership of an asset. In most cases, though, 12-18 months is a fair estimate.
Even so, it is a lengthy and stressful process, especially when you would rather spend time cherishing the memories that you shared with the dearly departed. Our p[professional probate services in Massachusetts can guide you to a stress-free legal process followed by fair results for all relevant parties.